A century ago, a public port was a radical notion


EVERETT – The Port of Everett is the product of “controversial legislation” approved by Washington lawmakers – the Port District Act of 1911.

At the dawn of the 20th century, public ownership of port facilities, such as ports, docks and waterfront properties, was a “radical and controversial” idea – as was giving women the right to vote and workers the right to vote. to organize, according to Kit Oldham, editor-in-chief at HistoryLink.org, an online encyclopedia.

the Everett Harbor – which celebrates its 100th anniversary this month – and other ports in Washington can trace their genesis to the 1911 Act.

By law, citizens of any county could vote to form a port district, which had the power to issue bonds, set dock rates, levy taxes with the approval of voters, and to acquire property by eminent domain.

Then as today, citizens elected three commissioners to govern.

It was a bold move by lawmakers to wrest “control of the waterfront” from private companies that used it to make their profits “rather than promoting trade and facilitating the import and export of goods for the merchants and farmers of the area, “writes Oldham. .

The structure of the port – an independent government entity with elected commissioners charged with protecting the public interest – was “novel at the time and remains unique today, Oldham argues. Ports “in other states are still generally managed as departments of city or state government,” with appointed commissioners.

Taking the lead, the Port of Seattle was established in June 1911. The Port of Grays Harbor and the Port of Vancouver followed suit. There are now 75 public ports in the state, in 33 of 39 counties.

In 1918, the citizens of Everett, hoping to take over part of the World War I industry, voted overwhelmingly to create a harbor district and set boundaries.

Then, as now, the desire was to “reclaim the waterfront from private industry, protect the interests of residents, create family jobs and serve as steward of the waterfront”, said Lisa Lefeber, acting general manager of the port.

In 1919, the Port of Everett drafted its first port plan and presented it to the public through newspapers and hearings – one of the many requirements of the law to ensure an open process.

In the decades that followed, the port shaped the city like no other entity in a quest to create jobs by creating opportunities for others to earn money.

For example, a business might lease space at the port to sell and repair boats or operate a restaurant. The port also makes money by running its natural deep-water cargo port and collecting royalties from boat owners whose ships are moored in the West Coast’s largest public marina.

In the early years, wood products made by Everett waterfront factories dominated the economy.

“Everett was a mill town from around 1900 to the mid-1960s,” said Lawrence O’Donnell, co-author of “The Evolution of a Dynamic Waterfront in Everett: A Tale of Sawdust, Salmon and Speedboat ” with his brother, Jack O’Donnell. The book tells the story of the port and the impact of lumber, fishing and boat building on the area.

In 1910, the Everett factories were producing 6 million cedar shakes per day. Laid end to end, they would stretch for 1,400 miles, according to O’Donnell.

The sawmills supported sawyers, sawmill workers, saw fileers, boat operators, dockers, railway workers and everyone else, said O’Donnell, who once worked at the Weyerhaeuser mill on the edge of the Snohomish River.

In some factories, workers were given an hour’s lunch break to hurry up to eat and help sharpen huge bandsaws that were 18 to 30 feet long and up to 5 inches wide. “When the weld broke on one of these things, the mill shook,” O’Donnell said.

In the 1960s, sales of composite shingles soared, spelling the end of the cedar shingle industry.

“You could see it was the end because some of the factories had composite roofs,” O’Donnell joked.

Luckily, the decline of the wood products industry coincided with the arrival of The Boeing Co. in Everett and the manufacture of the 747 in the late 1960s, O’Donnell said.

The port now functions as an extension of the aerospace manufacturing process, housing 100% oversized aerospace parts and components for the 747, 767, 777 and 777X.

The handling of oversized containers, as well as industrial and agricultural equipment, has become the port’s niche, port spokeswoman Catherine Soper said.

Containers with clothing and consumer electronics are more likely to dock at the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, Soper said.

In 2008, the Port’s Mount Baker Terminal in Mukilteo opened to accommodate parts for the 777.

In the coming years, modernization of ocean freight facilities will allow the port to handle even larger containers carrying parts for the 777X.

Each of the port’s three business sectors – the marina, the freight port and real estate – must be self-sufficient. That means they have to pay for themselves and employee salaries, Soper said.

However, the port levies property taxes to pay for environmental cleanup and capital improvements. This year’s port tax is approximately 27 cents per $ 1,000 of assessed value.

The tax district boundaries were drawn a century ago and have only been extended once since, to include Hat Island. In 2011, the district lines were moved so that each now reaches a riparian community. The boundaries encompass most of Everett and parts of Mukilteo and the adjacent unincorporated areas of Snohomish County.

Janice Podsada: [email protected]; 425-339-3097


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