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caption: Environmental activist Jordan Van Voast on the Seattle waterfront.
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Environmental activist Jordan Van Voast on the Seattle waterfront.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Proposed Pioneer Square cruise terminal could help businesses, harm environment

A proposed cruise ship terminal near Pioneer Square would flood Seattle’s waterfront with thousands of people several times a week starting in 2023. The ships could bring benefits and problems to the neighborhood.

Critics plan to bring their concerns to a port commission meeting Tuesday.

They say they worry about the air pollution that cruise ships produce.

Tija Petrovich runs a gym called Seattle Fitness in Pioneer Square.

“I have a lot of concerns” she said, starting with the exhaust created by all those cruise ships. “One cruise ship out there is like a million cars! Idling. That’s not good.”

The figure she cited comes from a German environmental group's report on cruise ship emissions. A ranking of cruise line and individual vessel pollution by environmental advocacy group Friends of the Earth suggests Seattle and other West Coast ports are not immune.

The Port of Seattle plans to put in big electrical outlets, so that cruise ships can plug in and stop running their engines. But many ships don’t have the hardware to connect.

Environmental activist Jordan Van Voast connects those local pollution concerns to larger concerns about the industry's carbon footprint.

“The Port’s doing some good things: solar panels and sequestering carbon in Smith Cove, right over there over in the other side of the harbor," he said. "But those are insignificant compared to the millions of tons annually that the cruise industry is responsible for.”

caption: Tija Petrovich, owner of Seattle Fitness, lives and works in Pioneer Square.
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Tija Petrovich, owner of Seattle Fitness, lives and works in Pioneer Square.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Still, the proposed cruise terminal has lots of fans, like the staff of Ivar’s restaurant on Seattle's waterfront. It's part of a large number of hospitality focused businesses that could benefit from the cruise terminal. After years of disruption from the Viaduct demolition, those businesses are ready for business.

James Todd works at Ivar's, and even sings a bit of the old jingle when customers ask: “And I think of my happy condition … Surrounded by acres of clams.”

Ivar’s has a little takeout window on the waterfront, where you can order clam chowder. Todd said on a sunny summer day, people line up for it.

“You’ll easily have 30, 40 people in line,” he said.

But after the cruise ship terminal gets built, he said, “You could have a hundred people waiting for chowder!"

After a moment, he added: "It’s worth it! It’s good chowder.”

Though Todd was just providing a rough estimate, Ivar’s President Bob Donegan said it’s not far off. His company’s analysis estimates business on sunny summer days could increase 3 or 4 times when the new waterfront park and cruise terminal open.

Lisa Howard, executive director of the Alliance for Pioneer Square, said it's common for people to hold both these feelings in their minds at the same time: Optimism about the business opportunities and concern about the potential environmental problems. And given the rapid pace of change Seattle has experienced in the last few years, "I think a lot of people are nervous," she said.

Howard said Seattle wasn't planning on a cruise terminal when it started the conversation about a new waterfront park.

"As we're adding this large element, how do we make it work?" she asked. "I don't think it's impossible."

There's plenty of time to make the new cruise terminal the best it can be, said to Port of Seattle spokesperson Peter McGraw.

The Port is just now working on the project's draft environmental impact statement. McGraw said there'll be a public comment period for that document after it's published in the spring. "This is the beginning of a long process," he said.