Group fights for marine future
When the sun rises over Salmon Bay, the shores are already busy with noise. A hammer's methodical 'thud' reverberates across Pacific Fisherman, Inc.'s shipyard. One of Ballard Transfer Company's powerful, red trucks idles, warming up for the day's first run.
On the bay's south side, a buzz saw whines from inside one of the hundreds of fishing vessels tied up at Fishermen's Terminal. To the east a power tool's staccato popping echoes across the Foss shipyard. On the other side of West Ewing Street rock music blares inside Maximum Performance Hydraulics shop. Inland at the Burlington Northern Santa Fe's rail yard in Interbay trains hiss and sigh. Further south, forklifts chug up and down Terminal 90/91's long piers.
Several thousand industrial jobs are located in the land between Ballard Transfer Company in the north and Terminal 90/91 in the south. The area is one of Seattle's two industrial centers. Its official name is Ballard Interbay Northend Manufacturing and Industrial Center, but it is better known by its more manageable acronym, BINMIC.
The maritime industry dominates the BINMIC. It is homeport for the bulk of the United States' North Pacific fishing fleet. The fishing industry has been in the area since before Europeans arrived. The Shilshole tribe lived along Salmon Bay, where fish and game were abundant, according to David Wilma on HistoryLink.org. By the early 1900s Seattle controlled the North Pacific halibut fishery. Salmon Bay was forested by twin-masted halibut schooners.
Today, Seattle-based vessels catch over $1 billion worth of fish each year, according to a 2002 maritime industry study paid for by the city of Seattle. The boats moored in Salmon Bay and along the Ship Canal catch salmon, crab, halibut and more in the waters around Alaska. The television show "The Deadliest Catch" has made several of the crab boats and their crews into stars.
If you have eaten a frozen fish stick anywhere in the United States, the fish was probably caught by a boat based out of the BINMIC. Most frozen whitefish is either pollock or Pacific cod, both of which are caught by boats based out of Terminal 90/91.
"The BINMIC has the only fresh water moorage available to the commercial fishing fleet, and as a result provides the support services necessary to maintaining those commercial boats," said Peter Philips, president of the Seattle Marine Business Coalition. Mooring in freshwater, which is less corrosive than saltwater, reduces operating costs.
Many of the businesses in the BINMIC support the fishing fleet either directly or indirectly. Economists call the situation a "cluster," a concentration of interconnected businesses whose proximity to each other increase productivity. Ballard Oil fuels boats. City Ice stores frozen fish until it is sent to market. Pacific Fishermen, Inc. overhauls boats. Ballard Transfer Company hauls fishing nets between the docks and manufacturers.
"The BINMIC has preserved the largest cluster of (fishing support services) on the West Coast," Port Commissioner Alec Fisken said when asked about the significance of BINMIC. "Maintaining that cluster is critical to maintaining Fishermen's Terminal."
In the BINMIC the Port owns and operates Fishermen's Terminal, Terminal 90/91, the grain terminal and the 99-acre North Bay site.
The 866-acre BINMIC was created in 1999 by Seattle to keep industry and manufacturing in the area. It is one of the thirty-eight neighborhood plans mandated by Seattle's 1995 Comprehensive Plan. King County also designated it as one of its five industrial centers.
Proponents of designating industrial centers were concerned that industry and manufacturing were being pushed out of Seattle. In 1994 the city increased zoning protection for industry.
BINMIC means "the survival of the maritime sector," said Warren Aakervik Jr., owner of Ballard Oil Co. "It was drawn around this sector so people could have a say in what was going to happen in their area ... We in the BINMIC wanted more industry to come in, and that was our vision for it."
Seattle City Council is currently considering strengthening zoning protection for industry again. Industry and manufacturing in Ballard and Interbay are feeling the pressure of Seattle's booming real estate market, and many people in the industry, as well as public officials, are worried that the city's current zoning code will not keep industrial land from being converted to non-industrial uses.
The Council is studying the issue, and will vote on it before the end of the year, said Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck.
Manufacturing, Industry and Controversies
The BINMIC has been home to two on-going political fights: the Burke-Gilman Trail's "missing link" and the Port of Seattle's proposed North Bay redevelopment.
The "missing link" is the unfinished segment of the Burke-Gilman Trail from 11th Avenue Northwest to the Ballard Locks. The city wants to put it along the edge of the BINMIC. Businesses relying on freight trucks, such as Ballard Oil Company and Ballard Transfer Company, are worried that mixing bicyclists and big trucks will lead to an accident like the fatal one that occurred on Eastlake Avenue in August. In 2003 Ballard Oil Company's insurance agent informed the company that it would become uninsurable if an accident between a bicyclist and freight truck occurred on the proposed trail.
Industry fought against the city's adoption of the "missing link" alternative, and at least one business owner, Byron Cole of Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel, publicly contemplated a lawsuit to prevent construction.
It has not come to that as the city has not allocated funds for building the segment.
The Port of Seattle wants to build an office park on its 99-acre North Bay site located to the north of the Magnolia Bridge in Interbay. City Council rejected the proposal last June. The plan would require a zoning change over $40 million in infrastructure upgrades which the Port says would not be necessary if the land was leased to industrial tenants.
"It's important that it be put to productive use," said Port spokesman, David Schaefer. "We don't think the economies are there to do industry exclusively."
In recent years several potential industrial tenants were rebuffed by the Port, and existing tenant City Ice had to wait several years before it was allowed to renew its lease. At the same time the Port spent over $6 million trying to attract bio-tech tenants. So far it has secured zero tenants.
Korry Electronics Company, a parts manufacturer for Boeing, wants to move its operations to North Bay from South Lake Union. The Port initially quoted lease rates of $30/square foot, a far cry from the more standard $6/square for industrial land. Korry was also told it would have to pay to hook up to utilities, which is not standard practice.
"The Port's successfully fended off suitors for North Bay for years, saying the Port was planning, but Korry's rich and persistent, and said we really want this land," Fisken said. He opposes the Port's North Bay proposal.
Korry returned with the city of Seattle's backing and worked out an agreement with the Port. But that is being help up by the Port's request for the zoning change to allow a reduced office park.
If City Council votes to strengthen zoning protection for industrial land, it is doubtful the Port's request would be approved.
Dan Catchpole may be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org