Dredging planned in Seattle to make way for bigger ships

SEATTLE — In 2016, we saw the future.

The Benjamin Franklin, the largest cargo ship to call in Puget Sound, arrived in Elliot Bay.

Cargo ships are getting bigger so, to stay competitive, the Northwest Seaport Alliance plans to dredge two waterways to create the nation's deepest seaport.

U.S. exports, such as apples, are heavy. Ships reach their weight capacity before they reach limits on the number of containers.

"We need them to be able to leave here fully laden with exports," said Bari Bookout, director of marketing and business services at the Northwest Seaport Alliance, during an interview in June. Bookout has since left the port for another job.

In June, leaders at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers signed off on a $60 million plan to dredge on both sides of Harbor Island, in what's known as the East and West Waterways.

Terminal 5, which will be redesigned for big ships, is near Superfund sites that are mostly cleaned up.

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James Rasmussen, of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, said that, in many cases, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered contaminants dug out and capped.

Rasmussen hopes they stay capped.

"Our first concern is that, if they are going to do dredging on the site, is that we don't get past those caps and reopen the contamination that is already there," Rasmussen said.

The EPA has assured Rasmussen that dredging won't penetrate the caps.

Brian Nelson, of the Army Corps of Engineers, explained what happens if hazardous material is found.

"Potentially hazardous material then gets moved to a permitted upland disposal site, and it's remediated that way," Nelson said.

The EPA's remaining cleanup work will be finished in the West Waterway before dredging begins.

The EPA is now reviewing the cleanup of PCBs in the East Waterway.

Once that is done, dredging in that second phase can begin.

Approval from Congress could come as early as this fall.

After the funding comes through, the port hopes dredging will be finished in the West Waterway in 2023 or 2024.