By Seattle Times editorial board, May 6, 2015, Seattle Times
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray needs to get his story straight.
Last Friday, he issued a news release headlined “Seattle open for business,” assuring people that commerce would not be interrupted by protesters on May Day.
Then on Monday morning, Murray put out the closed sign, at least for maritime companies that have viewed Seattle as a welcoming place for their operations for more than a century.
That’s the potential effect of Murray’s announcement to an environmental group’s fundraising event. His planners reviewed a land-use permit granted to the Port of Seattle and decided it wouldn’t work for oil exploration vessels.
Murray said he’s trying to get the Port to pause and reconsider plans to use Terminal 5 to support Shell’s Arctic drilling exploration operations for two to four years. In other words, he joined protesters trying to interrupt this business.
The Obama administration decided in March to let the Arctic work proceed. That may have been unwise and is worth debate, but it’s happening regardless of where the ships go for staging and maintenance.
Murray insists that he’s a strong supporter of the port and maritime industry. But if the city’s move blocks Shell and scuttles the port’s lease with Shell’s partner Foss Maritime, it could permanently tarnish the reputation of Seattle’s struggling port and put the city’s future as a maritime hub in question.
At Murray’s direction, planners revisited a 1994 permit for work done on Terminal 5. They decided that seasonal moorage and storage may be allowed at such facilities, but in this case the moorage is not “intrinsic to the function of a cargo terminal.”
Whether the decision holds up, it creates uncertainty. It signals to maritime companies that a lease with the Port may be targeted by the interests of local politicians — at the last minute, as vessels are en route to Elliott Bay.
How much of Seattle’s role in global commerce should be subject to city politicking?
The maritime industry provides more than just a picturesque backdrop for downtown offices and bars in Ballard. It’s a crucial source of middle-class jobs in a gentrifying city with dwindling opportunities for the working class.
Murray acknowledged this in a blog post later on Monday, saying that he stands behind the maritime industry and believes the Port’s success “is critical to our region’s success.”
In conversation Tuesday, Murray said he’s talked to the Port for months about the city’s concerns. He also offered to help find other uses or tenants at the terminal.
The mayor can’t play both sides here. Either he supports the operation of a port that’s open to diverse business interests or he doesn’t.”
The mayor can’t play both sides here. Either he supports the operation of a port that’s open to diverse business interests or he doesn’t. Further inserting Seattle and its politics into Port business won’t help at this point.
As the city and Port squabble over jurisdiction and permit language, it might turn out that Port officials made an error, though it’s unusual for the city to dig up an old permit to prevent specific equipment and vessels from using waterfront.
When complaints arise with land-use permits, the city often lets businesses continue operating on the site as long as they’re making an effort to sort out the paperwork.
That seems like a reasonable way forward. It’s an opportunity for the Port to mend fences and allow more input on a controversial lease. It would also give the mayor a chance to show just how much he stands behind the maritime industry.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Brier Dudley, Mark Higgins, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, Blanca Torres, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).