Port’s eminent domain OK’d - 22 property owners on Tideflats must yield to expansion

May 30th, 2007

Tacoma, WA - In a unanimous vote, the Port of Tacoma Commission on Tuesday authorized the use of the port’s powers of eminent domain to force the sale of 140 acres of privately owned property on Tacoma’s Tideflats. The port wants the property so it can develop marine cargo terminals on the east side of the Blair Waterway. The action affects 22 property owners – many of whom lease their land to other businesses. Those businesses generate an estimated 680 jobs, Bob Emerson, the port’s senior director of real estate, told the commission.

Most of the affected businesses will need to relocate, though some might be able to reconfigure operations at their current locations.

Commission President Connie Bacon said the port would condemn property only as a last resort and plans to continue to negotiate purchases with property owners.

“This is not something we do lightly,” Bacon said. “This is not a hammer, it’s something that’s a last-ditch effort.”

Though the port won’t need any of the properties for at least a year, Emerson said he wanted to secure the rights to the property in the upcoming weeks and months to facilitate development.

The meeting attracted a crowd, with most of the 63 chairs at the Port Business Center meeting room taken and several people standing in the back. Many of the affected property and business owners attended, but only one chose to voice his concern to the commission.

Gary Kehler, vice president of Graymont Limited, a Canadian company that makes products from limestone, said the port’s action has an immediate effect on business – especially customers considering long-term contracts with the company – even if the port doesn’t need the property for years.

The port wants a small corner of the Graymont facility for future development. The portion of the property isn’t used by the company, but Kehler said the port’s actions are still worrisome.

“This has caused serious concern with the employees about the longevity of the operation,” Kehler said. “It’s having an effect today. Passing the resolution will have an immediate effect (on business) … that is not compensated for.”

The company brings limestone into its Blair Waterway facility via barge to make its products, which are then sent off in containers, rail cars and trucks.

In an interview before the commission meeting, Tacoma City Manager Eric Anderson said the city will lose some of its taxable revenue as the property changes hands from privately owned to port-owned. Joseph Delaney, the city’s interim finance director, said revenue to the city from the affected Tideflats businesses is “minimal.” Exact figures weren’t available.

“We expressed a strong desire to relocate those businesses in the area,” Anderson said. “It’s a conundrum because on one hand we lose the business, but the on the other hand we want the port to be strong and grow.”

In other business, the port reached an agreement with Arkema Inc., a chemical manufacturing company, to buy the site of its defunct facility on Taylor Way on the Blair Peninsula. The port had moved to condemn the property, but reached an agreement before the matter went to trial.

The port will pay $22.7 million for the 67-acre site.

Kelly Kearsley: 253-597-8573




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