Northwest Seaport Alliance press release.
On Tuesday, August 2nd The Northwest Seaport Alliance (NWSA) Managing Members, comprised of commissioners from the Port of Seattle (POS) and Port of Tacoma (POT), approved a partnership with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to establish two liaison positions that will help expedite permitting for critical port projects.
The port-funded liaison positions will work alongside port staff to assist with NMFS’ informal and formal consultation process. One position will be dedicated to supporting NWSA, Port of Seattle and Port of Tacoma projects, while the second position will support member ports of the Washington State Public Ports Association (WPPA).
Recent changes to how the NMFS considers a project’s environmental baseline coupled with a new mitigation calculator has compounded the need for liaisons focused on port projects. These changes have made obtaining permits for both new and maintenance work a more difficult and lengthier process. A workload analysis found there is a four-year backlog of projects across ten ports in Washington with approximately 50% of that backlog comprised of Seattle, Tacoma and NWSA projects. The liaison positions will prove critical in helping ports navigate these new permitting requirements and hopefully reduce current delays.
“This is a critical time to hire liaisons as NMFS’ development of their new consultation process and lack of staff capacity have created a freeze on Endangered Species Act (ESA) reviews leading to a multi-year permitting backlog,” stated Ryan Calkins, The Northwest Seaport Alliance Co-Chair and Port of Seattle Commission President. “As ports, we pride ourselves on our record of balancing economic development with environmental stewardship. We need extra hands to keep our projects moving forward in the permitting process.”
Ports have a successful track record of utilizing liaisons to work with both NMFS and US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). In 2001, Seattle and Tacoma engaged a NMFS liaison who helped expedite permitting under the Clean Water Act. The liaison helped with formal and informal consultations, ensuring port projects complied with environmental requirements while reducing the time frame of the consultations. With the help of a liaison, formal consultations were often conducted over several months compared with other organizations where formal consultations were taking more than a year.
More recently, the WPPA managed a NMFS liaison that helped move critical consultations forward for Terminal 5 in Seattle and the Blair maintenance dredge for Tacoma. These two projects are enabling the NWSA to remain competitive with ports in Canada, providing much-needed export capacity for agricultural producers across the United States, and driving economic activity and job opportunities in Washington State.
“Together, the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma have created 441 acres of restored habitat and we rely on our partnership with NMFS, and now our liaison positions, to continue our work of maintaining and improving infrastructure and habitat in the Puget Sound,” stated Don Meyer, The Northwest Seaport Alliance Co-Chair and Port of Tacoma Commission President. “We are committed to continuing to engage NMFS on the roll-out of its new policy interpretations and conservation calculator, as NMFS states it is not necessarily appropriate for port use. We must work together to ensure permitting requirements fit the needs of our environment and the unique infrastructure demands of ports across our state.”
Ports recognize the important role they play in restoring and stewarding habitat for ESA-listed species. The NWSA, POS and POT have signed an Interlocal Agreement with NMFS to fund two liaison positions to complete ESA consultations for permits involving port activities with the liaison positions expected to begin working for the ports later this year.