Port of Tacoma Will Help Washington State Exports Remain Competitive Thanks to Defense Bill Authorization

Army Corps is expected to deepen Tacoma’s Blair waterway, allowing extra-large container ships to utilize the port.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 350-80 to pass the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The legislation – now heading to the Senate – includes the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which Sen. Cantwell fought to include in the final bill language.

The Water Resources Development Act authorizes key Army Corps of Engineers projects across the State of Washington, including authorization for the Army Corps to deepen the Port of Tacoma’s Blair waterway so extra-large container ships can import and export goods out of the Port of Tacoma.

As some of the largest container ships operating have nearly doubled in size in the last five years, this project will allow the Port of Tacoma to remain competitive with Canadian ports and continue to serve as a driver of Washington state’s $53.7 billion export economy.

“This is a big economic win for the Port of Tacoma and the entire South Puget Sound,” said Sen. Cantwell. “Deepening the Blair waterway will ensure that the Port of Tacoma is competitive and has the ability to host the new, larger container ships of the future. This will help the port continue to support and grow good paying jobs and boost Washington state’s $53.7 billion export economy, ensuring the Port of Tacoma and Seaport Alliance remain a top competitor in the global trade market.”

In 2019, marine cargo operations at the Port of Tacoma and the Port of Seattle generated $12.4 billion in economic activity and supported over 58,000 jobs.

From 2016-2020, British Columbia invested $372 million in Direct Port project funding. In the same time period, the U.S. only invested $45 million for Washington state ports. According to the Northwest Seaport Alliance, Washington state ports are at risk of losing business to Canada due to underinvestment.

Deepening the Blair waterway ensures that the Port of Tacoma can continue to boost economic development in Tacoma, Pierce County, and throughout Washington state’s maritime economy.

Heather Stebbings, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, stated: "The Pacific Northwest Waterways Association strongly supports passage of the Water Resources Development Act of 2022. This legislation is a real win for the Pacific Northwest, from modernization and increased resiliency of our coastal port infrastructure, to ensuring small and rural ports are able to compete, and our inland navigation system can support the movement of U.S. goods to global markets. PNWA greatly appreciates the efforts of Senator Maria Cantwell and her colleagues in Congress to prioritize this legislation and protect our nation’s ports and navigation infrastructure.” 

Sen. Cantwell has consistently championed investments in Washington’s ports. Along with securing WRDA in the 2023 NDAA, Sen. Cantwell also successfully fought to include the 2019 legislation that reauthorized U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration’s Port Infrastructure Development Program (PIDP), which she co-authored.

As Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Sen. Cantwell worked to include a record $2.25 billion for the PIDP in the Biden-Harris Infrastructure Law. In September 2021, Sen. Cantwell led a letter calling to boost funding for the PIDP program to help address the ongoing issues with port congestion. In 2022, Sen. Cantwell directed $71.4 million in PIDP funding to five ports in Washington state.

Along with securing more PIDP funding, Sen. Cantwell was instrumental in passing the Ocean Shipping Reform Act to strengthen maritime supply chains and protect Washington farmers and exporters from shipping companies’ unfair practices.

Sen. Cantwell also fought to include language in the WRDA to expand mitigation banking credits to help ports and other water resource projects lessen unavoidable impacts to mitigation banks, which are surrounding aquatic areas like wetlands or streams. Entities like ports, flood control, or water supply projects can use mitigation banking credits to help restore, establish, enhance, or preserve surrounding mitigation banks.

Mitigation banking is required for many projects that support supply chain efficiency and resilience, safety, job growth, and economic development for the region. Expanding access to mitigation banking credits will help aid the completion of port projects and lessen the impacts to aquatic ecosystems that rely on the surrounding environment.

“Thank you to Senator Cantwell for her leadership in securing this important funding for Tacoma’s Blair Waterway deepening project in the WRDA bill,” said Don Meyer, Port of Tacoma Commission President and Northwest Seaport Alliance Managing Member. “Completion of the Blair deepening will improve our ability to remain competitive and provide greater economic benefits and job growth for our region and throughout the state.”