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Port commission authorizes condemning Kimberly-Clark mill site

EVERETT — Calling it a crucial site, and hearing this is a once-in-a-century chance, the three-member port commission unanimously gave executive director Les Reardanz the power to pursue condemning the former Kimberly-Clark mill site to put it under the port’s ownership.
Commissioners at last week’s public hearing heard comments from more than two dozen speakers both pro and con. The hearing room at the port’s headquarters filled with more than 100 people.
The condemnation could interrupt plans by two companies, Pacific Stevedoring and Glacier Fish Co., that have a joint purchase-and-sale agreement for the site. Their plan is for a wharf to repair commercial fishing ships, warehouses and a processing plant for packaged seafood, and both companies would relocate their headquarters to here.
The port wants to use the deepwater site to expand its terminal in part to be able to accept larger ships. The port says only 11 deepwater ports exist statewide.
The condemnation order directs the port to continue negotiating for the site, and Reardanz said the port would.
The companies assert their operations will bring more than 1,200 jobs, from the job figures outlined by their owners at the meeting.
Their deal was announced publicly a week after the port commission set the date for holding the June 4 condemnation vote.
Pacific Stevedoring’s owner Andrew Murphy lamented to commissioners at the meeting he intended to make Everett his new home.
Losing the Kimberly-Clark mill in 2012 meant losing 700 waterfront jobs. The site’s 67 acres have gone unused since.
Glacier Fish Co.’s owner Jim Johnson told a Tribune reporter his company intends to build its operations in a multi-stage process, and the company would become headquartered in Everett.
The two companies’ publicly announced plan is to begin construction within 12 months of the deal closing, which Johnson affirmed in an interview.
Black picket signs stating “Stop the Land Grab” were posted along West Marine View Drive on the way to the meeting.
Numerous labor union representatives spoke up against the port’s potential condemnation. They argued the plan for a wharf and warehouses shows a plan for jobs now, and the port won’t reactivate the site quickly.
“We can’t afford to have this lay dormant,” a political lobbyist told the commission.
One port supporter was the president of the local dockworkers union, who essentially called Pacific Stevedoring’s plan as intruding on the port’s domain.
The port offers stevedoring services at its terminal. A vice president for Jones Stevedoring, a company that works closely with the port, indicated space limitations at the port today has caused his company to turn away customers.
Other speakers favoring the port claimed the competing companies won’t provide prevailing-wage jobs like at the port.
Meanwhile, former Everett mayor Ray Stephanson asked the commission to pause to have a dialogue about the site versus committing to a condemnation.
“The $100 million investment proposed here (by the two companies) would not happen in public ownership,” Stephanson said.
Stephanson said he took up a consultant role for the joint company effort after leaving office because he believes in their concept; at the meeting, he said the operations would diversify Everett’s economy.
As for Kimberly-Clark, it sent a speaker to last week’s hearing to say that the company had no comment to its site being potentially condemned.
The port has negotiated to buy the site since 2012 to no success. In 2015, the port pitched leasing the site from Kimberly-Clark, but this offer was ignored, Reardanz said.
Pacific Stevedoring has been working to buy the site since 2016, Murphy said. It’s been leasing 20 acres of the site from Kimberly-Clark since 2017.
The port’s plan to condemn was likely either triggered by knowledge the port’s competitors were close to locking up the site with a purchase agreement, or the port’s announcement triggered the competing purchase agreement to be signed.
The port asserts in its condemnation order that state law is on its side to take the property.
“We are a steward of public infrastructure, and the port was designated and statutorily directed under state law for economic development and that’s why it’s so important to put this in public use,” Reardanz said in a speech noting the port’s history in rejuvenating contaminated waterfront properties.
Its past cleanup work includes the former Weyerhaeuser mill site and the former Bay Wood Products mill site at the northern tip of Everett.
But the port wouldn’t inherit the contamination problems associated with the Kimberly-Clark site. The state ordered Kimberly-Clark to conduct a vast cleanup, and that responsibility stays with Kimberly-Clark because Ecology named the company the potentially liable party, port deputy executive director Lisa Lefeber said post-meeting.
After the vote, port commissioner Bruce Fingarson said he didn’t hear any comments that would have convinced him otherwise against condemning the site.
Commission president Glen Bachman said he wanted to hear from Reardanz and the public before concluding to authorize the condemnation.
Financing a condemnation, if needed, would come from the port’s general fund, as well as any other available means, according to the condemnation order.
The port is a publicly financed taxing district, however the money in its general fund largely comes from its import-export cargo shipping and other commercial activities, according to prior Tribune reporting.



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