On May 5, 1987, Port of Everett Commissioners unanimously vote to sell 143 acres of Port property for $43.5 million to the U.S. Navy for the purpose of building a homeport for the carrier USS Nimitz and up to 12 other ships. The decision ends months of controversy and negotiation and clears the way for the state to lease tidelands to the navy for waterfront development. Groundbreaking for Naval Station Everett takes place on November 9, 1987, and the official opening is held in April 1994.
The city of Everett had waterfront ties to the navy twice in the city's early years. In 1918 the Norway-Pacific Construction and Dry Dock Company set up a wartime shipbuilding plant on Port Gardner Bay, only months before the World War I Armistice was signed. The company was a short-lived venture; no vessels were built at the plant.
World War II brought a longer-lasting presence, the Everett Pacific Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, located at the foot of 21st Street on Norton Avenue (now W Marine View Drive). The company operated from 1942 to 1949, employing both men and women who built ships, barges, harbor tugs, and mobile dry docks for the U.S. Navy. Forty-nine launchings were made in the company’s first 36 months of operation. Everett residents hoped that the plant would be able to successfully convert to peacetime ship repair, but by 1950 the company was gone.
With Everett's lumber and shingle economy in serious decline by the 1980s, civic leaders began plans to revitalize the waterfront. Concurrently, the U.S. Congress approved the strategic homeporting initiative -- the concept of Secretary of the Navy John Lehman (b. 1942) -- to allow for new, smaller bases. This was an attempt to disperse the Navy fleet away from large concentrated bases. On April 17, 1984, Everett was selected from 13 locations as the site of a new homeport. By October 1986, Congress had approved the first construction funds.
The proposed Everett homeport had its opponents. Residents in neighborhoods close to the proposed site were concerned about environmental dangers as well as the impact on city and county services. A group called the Port Gardner Information League published statistics about the base's expected impact on the community. Leaders of Everett's 125-member longshoremen's union charged port officials with giving away facilities that could cost them jobs and cripple the port's important log shipping business. Local tribes were angered over the expected loss of fishing and environmental groups opposed the Navy's dredging plan.
At first Everett citizens were divided over the issue and a voter initiative was placed on the November 1984 ballot. But in October of that year, Weyerhaeuser laid off 206 members of the Industrial Woodworkers of America at its Everett Mill E site. The plant would close for good the following year. When voters were asked to approve or disapprove Naval Station Everett, their vote was nearly 2-1 in favor.
Closing the Deal
Congress approved the first funds for homeport construction on October 2, 1986. Port of Everett Commissioners Dwayne Lane, Alan Johnson, and Jim Shaffer called for a last public hearing on the issue in January 1987. A bill clearing the way for Washington to lease state tidelands to the U.S. Navy for its proposed new home port at Everett passed the state Senate on March 11, 1987, with an amendment requiring the state Department of Natural Resources to follow required laws in the land sale. In the same month the Army Corps of Engineers gave its OK to proceed with the aircraft carrier base and by April, Port of Everett Commissioners issued contingencies and necessary requirements in a 12-page agreement. The agreement spelled out the land purchase:
"The Navy agrees to buy all land beginning with the $8.26 million purchase of about 53 acres on the East Waterway or Pacific Terminal, including Piers B, D and E. Simultaneously the Navy must sign an agreement to pay $1.5 million by March 31, 1988, for an option on three remaining parcels of land on the 80-acre Norton Terminal. That Option includes payments of about $10.35 million, $14.79 million and $8.61 million in fiscal years 1988, 1989 and 1990 respectively. A one-time extension of the option for a year can be granted to the Navy if it pays another $600,000 toward the total purchase price. But in no case can arrangements extend beyond March 31, 1992" (The Herald, April 15, 1987).
The transaction would include an additional 10 submerged acres.
Making It Official
On May 5, 1987, port commissioners agreed to sell 143 acres of land for $43.5 million to the U.S. Navy for an aircraft carrier base, thus committing the port to hold the land for sale to the Navy until March 31, 1988. The sale was contingent on the U.S. Congress committing to the three-year series of payments and purchases.
The Department of Ecology approved Everett’s request for a shoreline permit in July of 1987, with two conditions. One condition specified that the city speed its plans for providing public access and another condition required the Navy to submerge part of their planned 9,000 foot pipeline, which was proposed to carry capping material to the dredge disposal site. Submerging the pipe would allow continued recreational boating.
The Dredging Issue
Even with a shoreline permit given, homeport development slowed over the issue of how to dispose of the dredged sediment. Years of industrial development along the Everett waterfront had left a polluted harbor and preparing a site for the Navy carrier base required dredging with safe disposal of contaminated mud. The proposal called for dredging nearly a million cubic yards of polluted sediment from the Everett harbor and then dumping it off the mouth of the Snohomish River and capping it with an additional 2.4 million cubic yards of clean mud from the harbor. But Port Gardner Bay was a prime breeding area for Dungeness crab and other shellfish and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rejected the plan, as did the Tulalip Tribes who feared the impact on fishing.
Construction permits were approved and then construction halted many times in the building process as environmental groups and the Tulalip Tribes objected. In the end, the Navy gained permission for the dumping and capping process and the Tulalip Tribes settled with the Navy for compensation of reportedly $3.4 million.
Naval Station Everett
On November 10, 1987 Everett Mayor Bill Moore broke ground for the homeport. He threw one shovel of dirt in honor of the late Henry M. Jackson (1912-1983) and one for the city of Everett.
Naval Station Everett was built in several stages and opening ceremonies were held several times as it was being built: one for the completion of a pier, another for the arrival of the first ships, and a ribbon cutting to commemorate a $14 million road project. The Home Port was officially opened on April 8, 1994, with a full military ceremony held at Everett's Marina Village. The event was attended by top military dignitaries and nearly a thousand citizens.