Tacoma, Seattle ports began alliance talks as early as 2013

New documents released by the ports of Tacoma and Seattle show the two port commissions and their staffs carefully scripted their public announcements and discussions about an operating alliance between the rival ports.

Those revelations came in documents released by the two ports at the request of Olympia public meetings advocate Arthur West.

While most of the numerous records the ports released were extensively blacked out, some early meeting records not conducted under the auspices of the Federal Maritime Commission show careful control of what information would be released and suggested talking points about the proposed agreement for commissioners.

The two ports after initial joint discussions sought Federal Maritime Commission permission to hold private joint meetings to hammer out the details of their cooperative agreement.

The two commissions held more than a score of confidential meetings before announcing their intent to form an alliance last fall. The records West obtained showed the two commissions had been talking about some arrangement to bolster their collective business since at least a year earlier.

West challenged the confidentiality of those meetings and lost at the Superior Court level. He maintained that the state Public Meetings Act required commissioners to hold their discussions in public. The ports maintained that by meeting under the auspices for the Federal Maritime Commission, they were exempt from state opening meetings laws. West has appealed the lower court decision.

In written memos to commissioners, Kurt Beckett, deputy chief executive at the Port of Seattle, carefully outlined procedures for commission members to follow if contacted by the press. He outlined eight “joint messages” for commission members to promulgate.

For instance, Beckett wrote suggested talking points such as: “The ports of Seattle and Tacoma face fierce competition from ports throughout North America and must adjust to the shifts in the global maritime industry. Global shipping lines, continuing to lose millions of dollars each year, are investing in larger vessels with more capacity, sharing those vessels and consolidating terminals and reducing the number of ports at which they call.”

The two ports recently voted to seek formal FMC permission to create and operate under an alliance. That alliance covers the two ports’ container terminals, break bulk cargo facilities and other port assets to be jointly marketed and operated.

Port of Tacoma CEO John Wolfe will head the alliance under plans submitted to the commission.

John Gillie: 253-597-8663