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Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnists

Keep Seattle's waterfront working

Special to The Times

Creative visions abound for the future of Seattle's waterfront. Many, however, forget to include one critical element: our dynamic working waterfront.

Seattle grew up around its harbor. It is a natural wonder — indeed, a national treasure: a deep-water harbor protected from the extremes of the ocean, facing our country's major trading nations. Our citizens have worked hard over the past century to build their waterfront into, in 2005, North America's fifth-busiest container port..

Our harbor is rare not only because its deep water can accommodate modern container ships, but also because it embraces a unique mix of active maritime businesses, flourishing tourism and cruise industries, and tribal fisheries.

The city of Seattle is involved now with its exploration of the future of the downtown waterfront. We at the Port of Seattle have participated in the discussions, and have said that we "share your excitement about the potential to improve the city's front porch."

In fact, the Port's central waterfront project — which consists of Bell Harbor International Conference Center, a cruise terminal, Odyssey Maritime Discovery Center, a public marina, and pedestrian access to the waterfront via a skybridge and an elevator from the Pike Place Market — is an unprecedented example of waterfront redevelopment. Further, these investments by the Port stimulated private-sector investments in restaurants, offices, condominiums and the Marriott Hotel.

Indeed, the central waterfront project constitutes a dramatic example of cleaning up a blighted area, returning it to public use and spurring the long-awaited development of Belltown and the Denny Regrade.

However, we are concerned about competing visions of the waterfront that contain no container ships, no tugs, no fishing boats, no cruise ships, no barges, no grain ships and — come to think of it — no cranes, trucks or trains.

We believe that the well-paying jobs generated by our maritime industrial base should be part of our future vision. We think we will still need the jobs that our maritime economy provides for the region, even in the year 2100. How else will we be able to stroll, visit cafes and coffee shops, enjoy the views along the waterfront, and sail in its waters?

Maintaining Seattle as a livable city requires keeping it an affordable city for working families. It is critical that we continue to invest in the infrastructure necessary to get goods out to the world and into our own residents and businesses as efficiently and affordably as possible. These activities put people to work. They constitute one of our region's most valuable resources, a working waterfront.

Take Terminal 46, just south of the ferry dock, for example. It is on deep water, no dredging necessary. Hanjin Shipping Company's operations alone provide nearly 4,000 jobs, $200 million in payroll, and $22 million in state and local taxes annually. And that is just one terminal: Overall, our seaport contributes close to 35,000 jobs, $2 billion in payroll, and $210 million in state and local taxes annually to the region. The jobs provided by our working waterfront cannot be replicated in any other location. Offices, housing and parks can exist elsewhere without sacrificing this key industrial facility.

As the city moves forward, we on the Seattle Port Commission want to make sure that plans for redesigning the waterfront ensure our ability to move freight and people, and to continue to improve our land, water and air environments.

In the past dozen years, the Port has invested more than $1 billion in its terminals, while cleaning up polluted areas and a Superfund site. We take a back seat to no one when it comes to preserving and enhancing this regional treasure that contributes to jobs for people and to protection of the environment for all of us.

We are eager to participate in future planning for our working waterfront. We applaud the dreamers, but let's not forget the workers.

Patricia Davis, left, and John Creighton, right, are Port of Seattle commissioners. Fellow commissioners Bob Edwards, Alec Fisken and Lloyd Hara cosigned this guest column.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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