Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Industrial Stagnation

By Chris Philips,
Managing Editor, Pacific Maritime Magazine

The late 18th and early 19th century saw the dawn of the industrial revolution, whose impact was felt throughout the world and which catapulted the United States and its citizens to an unprecedented level of wealth, safety, health and comfort that we enjoy to this day.

In 1775, the New York firm of Sharpe and Curtenius cast the first cylinder for a steam engine in the new world. Twelve years later, John Fitch of Pennsylvania built a working steam-powered boat, operated by six pairs of mechanical oars. In 1790, his second steamboat reached seven miles per hour on the Delaware River. That summer, it operated a passenger service from Philadelphia to Burlington, Bristol, Bordentown and Trenton.

In 1804, Robert Stevens built a steamboat 68 feet long, with a 14-foot beam and a revolutionary, 100-tubed boiler. At the same time, Oliver Evans was in production of 50 high-pressure steam engines, as well as an amphibious steam-powered paddlewheel dredge that he drove under its own power from his workshop to the Schuylkill River.

In 1807, Robert Fulton’s steamboat North River, later known as the Clermont, made her maiden voyage from New York to Albany. The next year, Robert Stevens sailed from New York to Philadelphia (the first sea passage by steam power), and in 1811, the first steam-powered ferry, Juliana, began operation between New York and Hoboken, New Jersey.

By 1814, steamboat service was operating between New Orelans and Nachez, Mississippi, and in 1819 the Savannah became the first steamship to cross the Atlantic.

Between 1824 and 1831, the first school of science and engineering opened in the United States, the Erie Canal opened from Albany to Buffalo, New York, the first freight and passenger-carrying rail line in the US was incorporated, and the first US-built steam locomotive, Peter Cooper’s Tom Thumb, began working the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, replacing horses.

These milestones were the product of unfettered scientific and commercial ventures, and they were powered by coal.

Last month, Washington State’s Cowlitz County granted a shoreline-development permit to an Australian company that wants to build a shipping terminal in Longview, Washington. The company, Millennium Bulk Logistics, a subsidiary of Australia’s Ambre Energy, hopes to export 5 million tons of coal a year, brought by rail from Wyoming and Montana. The coal will go to China to fuel that country’s own industrial revolution, presumably offering the opportunity to 1.3 billion Chinese for the same unprecedented level of wealth, safety, health and comfort that we enjoy. In exchange, Millennium Bulk Logistics says the company will create 120 family-wage jobs in the Longview area during construction and 71 full-time positions at the terminal once it comes online.

But all is not smooth sailing for the terminal. Like the 19th-century Luddites that saw technology as a threat to their way of life, environmental activists, from hooded anarchists in Portland, Oregon to Hollywood stars, and all the way up to the White House, scorn the coal that continues to fuel much of our fragile economy. In 2008, on the campaign trail in San Francisco, then-Senator Barack Obama promised to price coal out of existence as a source of electricity: “So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them, because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”

Locally, environmental activists are opposing the terminal, hoping the required permits will be denied by state or federal regulators. “This is an emerging area of law,” says Jan Hasselman, an attorney with the environmental law firm Earthjustice, speaking to the Seattle Times. “But we shouldn’t have commissioners in Cowlitz County making what effectively are decisions of national and even international significance.”

Some would argue that we shouldn’t have radical environmental groups like Earthjustice involved in what are effectively local decisions. Earthjustice claims 776 different members and associations, including the usual suspects like the AFL-CIO, Bluewater Network and the Humane Society, and eco-radical groups like the Basel Action Network, The Sierra Club and Greenpeace.

Of the 776 groups that make up Earthjustice, the overwhelming majority consists of attorneys, who apparently make a “non-profit” living accepting donations to sue the federal or state government, which, in turn, pays large settlements from tax receipts, presumably from the people whose jobs have been eliminated by the eco-lawyers.

It is becoming more difficult in the United States to harvest or extract our abundant natural resources, and those we can extract are considered to be too dirty to use. Now, the eco-obstructionists don’t want anyone else to use our resources either. The Luddites are back.

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Street Use Fees Could Go Up 900%

SMBC has learned that SDOT has proposed a substantial increase in the fees it charges those who use city street Right Of Ways (ROW) for storage. As part of the 2011 City budget process the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDoT) proposed a fee increase of 900% for ‘material storage’ on 128 parcels of city property leased to private organizations and individuals.

The proposed ordinance would increase annual SDoT Street Use Material Storage Fees (Use Code 12) from $.0.51 per square foot per year to $4.68 per square foot per year. The fee ordinance was bundled with other issues as part of the 2011 city budget adoption process; and was scheduled to be passed by Council on November 22nd.

Little advance notice was given to users of affected property. Permit holders were notified by letter of the city’s intent to increase the fees in a letter dated November 10th—fewer than two weeks prior to the City Councils scheduled hearing of the proposal on November 22nd.

SMBC and other businesses organizations joined affected property users in mid-December to urge Council members and SDoT director Peter Hahn to delay voting on this increase until affected property owners had a chance to comment on the proposal. Hahn has since consented to delay putting the proposal before the city council until 2011, but it’s pretty clear that SDoT intends to wrest a much larger lease fee from those who use city ROW to support their business activity. SMBC will continue to follow this issue, and we’ll keep members apprised of any proposals of which we become aware.

Comments on the Supplemental Draft EIS for the Bored Tunnel Viaduct Replacement Alternative

The Seattle Marine Business Coalition was invited to submit comments to the Draft Environmental Impact Study that the state is required to complete prior to moving ahead with the Bored Tunnel replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. 

The city must prepare and submit a similar study. Below is the text of the comments we submitted to the state today. We will update you with responses from the state and city when we receive them.

The Seattle Marine Business Coalition represents roughly 300 marine industrial land users within the city limits. Most of our member companies are clustered at the north and south ends of the viaduct, and rely on the efficiency that structure provides for movement between the two industrially zoned neighborhoods of the BINMIC and the Duwamish.

We are concerned with the effects the bored tunnel alternative proposal will have on traffic movement between those two neighborhoods. We believe there has been inadequate analysis of the cumulative impacts of the project on vehicle mobility on I-5, Alaskan Way and other city truck routes, arterials and residential streets. Without more comprehensive analysis, there is insufficient information in the SDEIS to provide adequate notice to the potential users of the revised road transportation system, and/or to plan and provide for appropriate mitigation of the impacts of the project.

Specifically, the analysis should address the following:

1. The state project managers have consistently held that the current tunnel portal configuration and access points mean that virtually all freight movement will be diverted from the existing viaduct to a new at-grade Alaskan Way. What are the expected truck volumes along Alaskan Way?

2. Given that trucks operate differently from single occupancy vehicles, what will be the effect of the additional freight volumes on Alaskan Way to overall travel times between BINMIC and the Duwamish?

3. Tolling seems to be increasingly attractive to the state as a revenue source to help offset construction costs of the bored tunnel, yet the effects of various tolling scenarios are not well defined in the Draft EIS. What will be the diversion patterns for the various tolling scenarios? Which tolling scenario is the preferred scenario? What are projected revenues for that scenario, and what effect will that scenario have on Alaskan Way traffic volumes and travel times?

4. The bored tunnel alternative will by definition cause a reconfiguration of the street grid. What happens to existing recognized truck routes in the post bored tunnel scenario? It would be helpful to the freight community if WSDOT or SDOT could create a schematic to illustrate truck routes developed to accommodate freight needs under the bored tunnel alternative.

5. Finally, we note that two other alternatives were compared to the bored tunnel in the Draft EIS: the cut and cover tunnel and a new elevated structure. Why was maintenance and seismic upgrade of the existing structure not included in the comparison? Several of our members served on Viaduct Advisory Committees. From that participation and independent study, we know that such a seismic upgrade would cost roughly ¼ of the cost of the bored tunnel alternative, and would maintain existing capacity and travel times.

Thank you for the effort represented by this Draft EIS, and for the opportunity to provide input regarding our concerns over the proposal.

Your responses to these concerns will help the freight community understand the effects the bored tunnel proposal may have on our businesses, such that we may work collaboratively with the city and the state to develop solutions that will help maintain the economic viability of the maritime industrial communities represented by the Seattle Marine Business Coalition.

We look forward to hearing from you.


Peter Philips
Seattle Marine Business Coalition

City of Seattle to form Freight Advisory Board

The City of Seattle has decided to form a Freight Advisory Board (FAB) to advise the city on issues affecting freight mobility within and through the city. According to the city, the FAB would have equal standing to the Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Boards currently advising the city on those issues.

The city council will appoint six members to board and the mayor will appoint five members. The Port of Seattle will have one seat for a Port staffer.

The FAB will be supported by a city staffer and will make regular reports to the city. SMBC has made several recommendations for representation from our membership.

Next Tuesday, Dec 14th, the city council’s Transportation Committee is expected to make its appointments to the Freight Advisory Board. Although the agenda for the committee meeting is not available as of press time; this action is scheduled as item 2 on the committee’s docket immediately following a briefing and discussion concerning the city’s response to the Nov 22 snow event in Seattle.

As always, Council committee meetings begin with an opportunity for public comment. Committee meets on Tuesday morning, 9:30 in Council Chambers at City Hall. The appointments to the FAB should probably come up by around 10:30 or so.