EVERETT — Port of Everett officials say they can turn an ongoing fight for ownership of the Kimberly-Clark paper mill site into a positive outcome for all — but only if they take control of the property.
The private maritime companies on the other side of the tussle say that’s just not realistic. They’d like to bring a big piece of Ballard’s fishing fleet to Everett. They’re not about to pour $100 million or more into redeveloping the mill site, they said, if they don’t own it.
The matter could come to a head Tuesday, when Everett port commissioners are expected to consider condemning the coveted slice of industrial waterfront for public use.
“This doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game,” Port CEO Les Reardanz said. “This could be a win-win for both entities.”
The property has sat vacant since 2012, when Kimberly-Clark closed the mill that had been operating there since the early 20th century. About 700 people lost jobs with the shutdown. All but one large building was demolished.
The next year, Seattle-based Foss Maritime Co.’s parent, Saltchuk, announced a tentative deal for the 66-acre property. That fell through over cleanup costs and questions about the seismic stability of the ground.
For years, nothing happened.
Suddenly, the land is a hot commodity.
In mid-May, the port announced it would consider invoking eminent domain to claim the land for public use. Port administrators are interested in keeping a federally secure buffer around Naval Station Everett next door. They also want to attract more shipyard maintenance facilities to the area, with the aim of attracting more Navy and Coast Guard vessels, while building up freight to support the likes of Boeing and other manufacturers.
“If we had owned the property when Kimberly-Clark closed, it would not have sat vacant” for so many years, Reardanz said.
Port ownership would ensure that the land serves the public’s best interests for the next 100 years or longer, the port CEO and his colleagues pledge.
About a week after the port’s announcement, Pacific Stevedoring and Glacier Fish Co. announced they were working on a deal with Kimberly-Clark to acquire most of the property.
Their vision included a cold storage warehouse, facilities to prepare seafood, and a working wharf. The companies would move their headquarters there, Pacific Stevedoring from Mercer Island, and Glacier Fish from Seattle. Messy fish processing with heads and guts would take place on boats while offshore, not on the site.
All told, they’re predicting at least 1,200 jobs.
That’s not all. They have suggested that other, undisclosed maritime companies will want to follow their lead.
“There is strong interest from other fishing companies to relocate their operations to Everett because of the PacSteves-Glacier proposal,” said Austin Hicks, a public affairs manager with Strategies 360, which is representing the companies.
“If other fishing companies were to move with that site, they would move their fleets there,” Hicks said.
The companies have pushed back against suggestions from the port that their deal would involve direct investments by foreign companies, a potential deal-breaker for the naval station.
Glacier Fish Company and Pacific Stevedoring are not seeking foreign financing or investment for this project, Hicks said.
The companies contend their proposal for the waterfront would result in more tangible development, sooner.
“We think the more people know about our plan the better,” Hicks said.
Port administrators counter that they’re looking out for the public interest over the long term.
Reardanz and others at the port question whether corporate headquarters, cold storage or other aspects of the project are the highest and best use on land zoned for heavy industry. Those activities could take place in an office park, they said.
“What you’re going to have is a very limited use of a very valuable deep-water asset,” Reardanz said.
Those companies, in theory, could still base operations there, even if it’s port land.
Lisa Lefeber, a deputy executive director for the port, said, “Our ownership doesn’t preclude Glacier Fish or anyone from coming to this site.”
Both sides have tried to sway public opinion to their side.
Former Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson has been working for Strategies 360, on behalf of the companies’ proposal. The firm also conducted a public opinion survey earlier this year showing that local respondents vastly favored private owners of the property. Port officials have called the poll biased.
Online, a sponsored Facebook page called Taxpayers for a Better Port had been promoted to the tune of about $4,700 over the final week in May. Hicks declined to comment on whether Strategies 360 created the page.
“Tell the Port: No Kimberly Clark Land-Grab,” it urged.
Separately, the city of Everett is working to purchase 8.5 acres of the former mill area to address drainage needs. The other parties have no objection to the city’s purchase.
As part of the transaction, the Everett City Council agreed to dismiss a lawsuit against Dallas-based Kimberly-Clark over environmental conditions on the property, once debris is removed. That work could finish up by early next year.
Different cleanup efforts at the site are being overseen by state and local authorities.
Under Everett’s zoning for the land, any future development would have to meet with the Navy’s approval.
The Navy is staying out of the dispute over who owns it, though the base commander for Everett wrote a letter of support earlier this year praising the port’s history of cooperation with the Navy.
“Naval Station Everett does not have a position on who owns the property,” base spokeswoman Kristin Ching wrote in an email. “The Navy would continue to coordinate with the City of Everett with regard to the city code that includes provision for compatibility with the base on issues such as security and operability.”
The Port of Everett’s Board of Commissioners will discuss a proposal to purchase the former Kimberly-Clark mill site through eminent domain at 4 p.m. Tuesday at the Waterfront Center, 1205 Craftsman Way, Everett, in the second-floor Blue Heron Room.