Port of Tacoma's huge new Pierce County Terminal celebrates grand opening on January 28, 2005.

  • By Julie Van Pelt
  • Posted 6/26/2008
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8672

On January 28, 2005, the Port of Tacoma's new $210 million Pierce County Terminal on the Blair Waterway opens officially to wide acclaim. The 171-acre container terminal is the largest in the Port's 85-year history and the largest north of Los Angeles, able to handle two of the world's biggest container ships at the same time. Taiwan's Evergreen Marine Corporation, one of the world's largest shipping lines, holds a 20-year lease on the terminal and contributed $55 million for cranes and other equipment. Marine Terminals Corporation manages the terminal's operations. The new terminal is the cornerstone of the Port's future expansion plans.

Big, Bigger, Biggest

Located at the end of the Blair Waterway, the new Pierce County Terminal docks make up 2,260 feet of combined berth length that can accommodate two large container ships, served by five 1,600-ton cranes that are visible from Interstate 5 and a 12-track intermodal rail yard. Evergreen Marine Corporation, which leases the facility, estimates annual capacity at 840,000 TEUs, or 20-foot-equivalent units, which is how the industry measures container volume.

By way of comparison, the old Pierce County Terminal processed about 630,000 TEUs a year and could only dock one ship at a time, causing costly delays as ships anchored in Commencement Bay waiting their turn. The new intermodal rail yard has four tracks more than the old yard, which facilitates flexibility and efficiency in loading the rail cars. According to Mark Miller, manager of the new terminal, a ship docked at the terminal will be unloaded and reloaded in 24-36 hours (Gillie).

With an initial price tag of $210 million, the new terminal is also outsized compared to other public building projects in Tacoma's recent history: it outstripped the $84 million Greater Tacoma ConventionĀ & Trade Center, the $42 million Union Station rehabilitation into a courthouse, and the $35.8 million Washington State Historical Society Museum.

That's Not All Folks

And the 2005 opening only accounts for phase 1 of the Pierce County Terminal project. Phase 2 -- scheduled to take place sometime before 2020 -- will grow the terminal to 237 acres and is projected to raise annual capacity to 1.2 million TEUs, along with making Pierce County Terminal the largest facility of its kind on the West Coast. By 2008, there were already an additional two cranes operating, for a total of seven.

As big as the Pierce County Terminal is and will be, it is only indicative of the Port of Tacoma's explosive growth. Also opened in 2005 were the renovated Husky Terminal (in June) at the mouth of the Blair Waterway and the Olympic Container Terminal (in July) on the Sitcum Waterway.

Neighboring the Pierce County Terminal, demolition has been ongoing on the Blair-Hylebos Peninsula since the Port took over the old 96-acre Kaiser Aluminum plant in 2003. The landmark Kaiser smokestack went down in a cloud of dust in 2006, along with 75 other buildings on the site. And in June 2008, demolition on the rest of the peninsula was getting underway in earnest to make room for a new 168-acre container terminal scheduled to open in 2012. The terminal is slated to house the Tokyo-based NYK shipping line, which in 2007 ended its more than century-long relationship with the Port of Seattle, opting for Tacoma instead.

This record expansion has primarily been to accommodate booming Pacific Rim trade. In 2007, 12 of the Port's top 20 trading partners (measured in dollar volume) were in the Pacific Rim region -- the top two were China and Japan.

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Not everyone has been thrilled about the Port of Tacoma's expansion plans. The Port of Seattle, for one, was none too pleased to hear that its customers Mitsui O.S.K. and NYK shipping lines would relocate to Tacoma.

The privately owned SSA Marine and the Puyallup Indian Tribe, in partnership to develop a 198-acre terminal adjacent to Port operations on the Blair Waterway, have also been dubious. But in April 2008 the company, the tribe, and the Port agreed to transfer and lease various properties and to cooperate on building roads, rail access, and widening the waterway -- a promising development in what has not always been a neighborly relationship.

About two-dozen business on the Blair-Hylebos Peninsula -- future home of the new NYK terminal -- are also in the way of Port bulldozers. The Port estimates that these businesses will need to relocate by 2010, some even earlier.

The payoff, say Port and state officials, is more jobs gained than lost: Even without the planned expansions, the Port of Tacoma says it already supports more than 43,000 family-wage jobs in Pierce County and more than 113,000 jobs elsewhere in the state (Port of Tacoma).


Marcelene Edwards, "New Kid on the Dock Turns Heads," Tacoma News Tribune, January 29, 2005; John Gillie, "Fill 'Er Up; Port of Tacoma's New 171-Acre Terminal is Bigger, Faster, Better -- and Open for Business," Tacoma News Tribune, December 19, 2004; Kelly Kearsley, "Blair-Hylebos Deal in Place," Tacoma News Tribune, April 23, 2008; Kelly Kearsley, "Demolition Starts on Blair Peninsula," Tacoma News Tribune, June 5, 2008; Kelly Kearsley, "It's a Special 'K' Day at the Port," Tacoma News Tribune, July 16, 2005; Kelly Kearsley, "Port Gobbles Up Tideflats with Land-Buying Binge," Tacoma News Tribune, July 29, 2007; Kelly Kearsley, "An Uncertain Future: Pushed Out -- But to Where?" Tacoma News Tribune, May 21, 2008; Neil Modie, "NYK Line Move to Tacoma a Blow to Seattle," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 26, 2007; Alwyn Scott, "Terminal Velocity," The Seattle Times, October 30, 2005; David Seago, "Port Developments Create Turning Point," Tacoma News Tribune, August 5, 2007; Kristen Millares Young, "Puget Sound Ports Take Steps Toward Cooperation: Tacoma Is Firmly Opposed to Merging," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 2, 2008; "Evergreen Opens New State-of-the-Art Terminal at Port of Tacoma," press release, January 28, 2005, Evergreen Marine Corp. website accessed June 25, 2008 (www.evergreen-marine.com/tuf1/jsp/TUF1_Html.jsp?page=TBN1_050128.htm); Port of Tacoma website accessed June 25, 2008 (www.portoftacoma.com).

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