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Port of Everett discusses expansion, seeks community feedback

SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash., November 16, 2023Economic Alliance of Snohomish County held a Coffee Chat Tuesday, November 7, welcoming the Port of Everett as guests for an informative virtual conversation on the topic of port boundary expansion.

The purpose of the chat was to discuss the Port potentially “exploring beyond its boundaries,” as Lisa Lefeber, Port of Everett CEO put it, meaning the Port is exploring whether the community is interested in having a larger Port district.

“As an economic development enterprise, the Port of Everett is always looking at ways to leverage the tools and resources unique to port districts to bring economic opportunity and added value to the communities it serves,” said Economic Alliance Snohomish County CEO Garry Clark.

The Port is currently designated as a Special Purpose District with the role of creating jobs and economic opportunity while reinvesting its resources in the community. The Port supports about 40,000 jobs in the region, along with a significant amount of state and local taxes. It only reinvests about 15% of those resources county-wide, however, being restricted to reinvest only within its boundaries. In a county that’s largely maritime focused with 60% of its economy dependent on trade, this is a missed opportunity, the Port says.

During the public outreach portion of the Port’s Strategic Plan for 2018 through 2019, the Port heard interest in expanding Port boundaries linked to a desire to see the Port’s strategic investments and infrastructure improvements stretch into other parts of Snohomish County.

Port Everett expansion
Snapshot from Economic Alliance of Snohomish County coffee chat on Port of Everett expansion.

A proposed expansion area is still being worked out by the Port Commission, but the area would have to be to be contiguous to its existing boundaries per current legislation. The Port has also explicitly stated that it would stay out of Edmonds city limits ruling out the possibility of taking over the port there.

Once proposed expansion boundaries are approved by the Port Commission the County Council would then need to be voted on by the County Council. If approved by both the Port Commission and County Council, the proposed boundaries then would head to the ballot for the public’s final say.

If approved by voters, the very first thing the Port will do is revisit its existing Strategic Plan.

Currently the Port is in its community outreach stage before drafting proposed expansion boundaries, first allowing the public to weigh in on if expansion is even of interest to them. The Port has opened a public survey from now until November 26 and will use that data to make a recommendation to the Commission in December whether or not to advance to the next step.

If all goes in favor of the expansion the project would likely commence some time in 2024. Taxpayers would likely see the tax increase beginning 2025.

The Port currently reports $95 million in its budget with $54 million of the operational revenues and about $30 million for capital projects. The Port currently gets around $5 million in taxes, so its operations annually subsidize more than 90% of its capital investments.

The benefits of a larger port district include bolstering trade; to mixed use; to marina facilities; to environmental stewardship; to environmental restoration, and so on, Lefeber mentioned.

The Port of Everett was the state’s sixth public port district created – in 1918 to take advantage of World War I activities. Washington currently has a total of 75 port districts with only 10 of them situated on a harbor. The rest are land based or river based.

As far as Lefeber knows an expansion like this has never been done in Washington, however, there has been mergers such as Chelan in Douglas County which has paid off for the county – at least as far as securing federal transportation grants.

The Port of Everett is currently not a county-wide Port, unlike many large port districts in Washington. It’s one of two ports in Snohomish County, with relatively small boundaries (implemented by the Port District Act of 1911) serving approximately 110,000 people. Still, it remains the largest public marina on the West Coast with 2,300 slips along with jetty and boat launch facilities. It is also the second largest export district in the state and the fifth largest in the state, and the third largest container port in the state.

“We’re small but mighty,” said Lefber.

Currently, the Port’s boundaries encompass most of Everett, portions of Mukilteo, and small parts of unincorporated Snohomish County in the Marysville area with about 110,000 residents.

With nearly 830,000 residents and counting, only about 15% of the County has port resources available to them.

These relatively small boundaries also restrict how the Port of Everett can partner with neighboring communities to invest in their specific economic and community priorities such as transportation improvements, job opportunities, community revitalization, recreational amenities, or in other ways.

The Port also has a fair amount of real estate and is currently working on a mixed-use redevelopment project in Everett as well as on the Mukilteo Waterfront.

100% of the Port’s operations are self-funded unlike state or county agencies. The average taxpayer pays about $100 in port fees but 100% of that is used for capital projects. For every $1 invested back in the community it creates $7 of value, according to Lefeber.

Given these limitations, and the public’s expression of expanding port district boundaries, the Port Commission has asked staff to conduct an economic value study and legal assessment of what it would take to expand. It now awaits the public’s opinion to move forward.

To learn more or contribute to the public survey click here.

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