Pacific Northwest ports read the danger signs
The container numbers are in -- and they are making some US Western Seaboard ports more agitated.
At the top of the table is Prince Rupert with a year-on-year increase of 38 percent (totaling just over 500,000 TEU), while Metro Vancouver was up 8 percent to a record 2.7 million TEU. The huge rise in volumes through the two Canadian ports was almost all at the expense of the Western Seaboard in the US and makes Tacoma’s 16 percent increase much less spectacular than it seems, because it was largely driven by the switch of the Grand Alliance from Seattle.
The next best US performance was by Los Angeles with 2 percent, while the rest were either flat or negative, with Seattle clocking in at a dismal 8 percent drop.
But, at least the Pacific Northwest is constantly aware of its shaky future and its place in the pattern of box volumes and traffic, in contrast to Southern California.
Seattle’s political leaders are seriously concerned about the board of harbor commissioners, which is in disarray. Vacancies have opened up but very few people are willing to put their names forward because the rewards are scant ($6,000 a year) while criticism is plentiful.
A proposal has been put forward to multiply commissioner salaries sevenfold to $42,000 a year. This is the same as for a part-time Washington state senator, which seems a sensible comparison. (If the suggestion is approved, the proposer will waive his own increase.)
On top of this there has been a public call for Seattle to merge with Tacoma, 30 miles away. Although anonymous by virtue of being a newspaper editorial, this is seen as more than the usual ploy of newspapers harping on old themes because nothing else is around of interest.
Industry insiders see this as a trial balloon, attracting plenty of debate. The editorial says the ports “need to do something to keep up. Canada is investing billions in the British Columbia ports and connecting rail. And in 2015 the widening of the Panama Canal will bring Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico ports into more direct competition.”
That could have come straight from city hall.