Twelve years ago, the Bellingham Shipping Terminal heard its death knell.
For decades, Georgia-Pacific’s waterfront pulp mill and the Alcoa Intalco Works aluminum smelter used the terminal to export nearly 500,000 tons of material out of Bellingham every year.
But in 2000, the mill closed and Alcoa cut production. Within one year, exports stopped. In the decade since, the terminal’s 1,500-foot pier has served as moorage for container ships and tugboats.
Enter Greenberry Industrial and Superior Energy Services.
The companies received approval in February from the Port of Bellingham to add about 36,000 square feet to the shared terminal space they have leased since November 2011.
The fact that the terminal, once a bustling heartbeat of local industry, resembled something more akin to a floating ghost town when the lease began actually worked in the port’s favor.
Chris Murray, Greenberry’s vice president of regional operations, said the ample available space, along with the terminal’s deep-water access, were deciding factors in the decision to lease from the port.
“We just fell into this bed of roses,” Murray said. “It was the right place. The timing was great.”
The companies now lease nearly eight acres of land and rent space in both of the terminal’s warehouses. The recently approved additional space will be used for outside storage and employee parking.
It is the fourth time Greenberry and Superior Energy have expanded at the terminal in the last four months.
Greenberry, a Corvallis, Ore.-based industrial contractor and fabricator, operates six locations nationwide including one in Ferndale. According to a Feb. 28 port memorandum, the company is partnering with Superior Energy’s Marine Division to provide oil field services in Alaska.
Murray said they are building a permanent floating structure that will be shipped north by barge once it’s completed in June.
He declined to say exactly what the structure would be used for, or to name the project’s client, citing the client’s concern for privacy.
Superior Energy, a Houston, Texas-based company, provides drilling and production-related services to oil and gas companies, according to its website.
Virtually all of the global players in the oil and energy industry have operations in Alaska, including BP, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp.
A number of smaller companies also operate in the state including Anadarko Petroleum Corp., Armstrong Alaska, Aurora Gas and XTO Energy, according to the Resource Development Council of Alaska, a natural-resource business association.
Murray said the project currently employs more than 150 people and will likely peak at 250 between now and June.
After the expansion, the port expects to receive $195,593 in revenue from the lease, according to the memorandum.
Dan Stahl, the port’s maritime director, said when the terminal is busy it feeds directly into the local economy.
“The shipping terminal has a lot of potential to create a lot of jobs for the community,” Stahl said. “That’s the key barometer for how we measure our success.”
Charlie Sheldon, the port’s executive director, said he didn’t know if Greenberry and Superior Energy’s project should be taken as a sign that the shipping terminal can make a comeback as an exporter.
Bringing jobs to the facility is always positive, he said, and the port is always looking to attract more.
“We’d like to see some cargo down there at some point,” Sheldon said. “It’s a struggle to get it, but we’re working on it.”
The port has focused its past marketing efforts on companies in Vancouver, British Columbia, particularly ones who were seeking U.S. footprints or ones who had reached export capacity at the Port of Vancouver.
In 2009, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration considered Bellingham as a new location to anchor its six-vessel research fleet, which was expected to bring jobs and money to the city’s economy. The agency instead chose to moor its ships in Newport, Ore.
Stahl said the new business at the terminal has led the port to broaden the scope of future tenants it may be able to attract to Bellingham.
“I would say we’re more aware of the potential market in Alaska,” Stahl said. “This has really helped us understand that market better, and so we’re looking at that.”
Murray said when his company first started looking for a terminal facility with Superior Energy, it considered Bellingham along with Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, Wash.
Along with the Bellingham terminal’s waterway access and available space, officials from the Port of Bellingham just wanted it more.
“They were very happy and extremely competitive,” Murray said. “If it wasn’t for the port being so receptive to filling up their space, which is just a great thing for Bellingham, we may have chosen somewhere else. But the stars were in alignment.”
Stahl said he thought waterway access was a major selling point. Many of the other terminals in Puget Sound with similar access lack free space for new companies seeking West Coast export bases, he said.
With the revival of the terminal that once connected Bellingham to global markets, Stahl said he was focused on maintaining shipping activity on the city’s waterfront.
“My hope is that we can keep it busy,” he said. “I’m hopeful that we can get some cargo started this next year, but also make room for companies like Greenberry that want to build things and move them out on a barge. I’m hopeful we can accommodate both of those uses.”
Once Greenberry and Superior Energy’s Alaskan project is complete, Murray said Greenberry’s leased space would shrink back to its original five acres.
However, with more projects on the way, he said the company has long-term plans for its property at the Bellingham Shipping Terminal.
“Everything is based on business, economy and projects, but from what we see, we’re going to keep it,” Murray said. “We’d like to hang a Greenberry sign down there, and we will.”
EVAN MARCZYNSKI PHOTOS