There are many ways to get to Elliott Bay Park. My favorite is the Helix Pedestrian Bridge.
On the other side of the bridge lies Amgen’s Research and Technology Center, next to pleasant Puget Sound vistas.
Built by Amgen after its acquisition of local Seattle biotech darling Immunex, the Helix Bridge provides safe passage over a highly active train line.
The train line is a commercial artery into the heart of Elliott Bay Park: the massive grain terminal operated by Louis Dreyfus Corp.
Located on the Port of Seattle’s Pier 86, the terminal was built in 1970 to efficiently move grain from incoming trains to outgoing ships. The terminal boasts 68 massive silos, each 130 feet high.
If Terminal 18 is a perpetual motion machine, Pier 86 is a robotized line dance.
BNSF and Union Pacific trains run day and night through this corridor, loaded with soybeans and corn from the American heartland – the Dakotas, Minnesota, Montana and Nebraska. Some token wheat from Washington and Oregon also passes through Pier 86.
Most of the grain leaving Seattle will be used as feed for livestock in the far East, with Taiwan, China and Japan as primary destinations. Central and South America also receive some portion of the grain.
All told, over 6 million tons of grain move through Pier 86 every year.
While most of the grain is buffered in the terminal’s 4 million bushels of storage capacity, some is transferred directly from train to ship. This is apparently preferable, as it allows the grain to be loaded onto the ship in somewhat better condition. It’s a rough life being a cereal.
The terminal is able to load 3,000 tons of grain per hour into a giant cargo ship. It is also able to unload trucks at a rate of 250 tons per hour. This throughput is only possible thanks to the facility being completely automated, with sophisticated mechanical devices and electronic controls. Who needs humans when you have such infrastructure?
During the day, the grain terminal is a spectacular sight. At night, the facility expands and fills all other senses.
Freed from ambient noise, trains click and clack with wild abandon, advancing one car at a time to feed the grain elevator’s endless hunger. Electric conveyor belts drone and hum. The enormous ship sloshes and clanks. In the distance, the city looks on proudly.
Grain dust rises from the ships as seeds roll into the ship’s hold. The smell is pervasive and intoxicating. It is earth and sunlight, the deep smell of the harvest, the taste of late summer. It is carbohydrate and omega-6, the deep imbalance of our bodies. It is, above all, commodity.
The flour settles on the bay. Algae blooms and metabolizes in the shallows, chaining together an entire ecosystem of micro-organisms, fish, and seagulls. The breadbasket of the world also creates local food chains.
A nearby fishing pier invites the adventuresome, the foolhardy and the merely hungry to taste the results.
While probably not the world’s most unhealthy fish, Elliott Bay’s catch is surely somewhere high on the leaderboards. This is why catch and release was invented.
Nearby, the Amgen facility works until late into the light, glowing with science and artificial light. Biotechnology meets corn. Reason sleeps and spawns monsters.
Elliott Bay Park continues down to Pier 90 and 91, where moorage is provided for commercial workboats and fishing vessels.
This is as far as the Port of Seattle reaches. It is the end of the port, the northernmost tentacle of the monster.
Farther east, Smith Cove becomes the Elliott Bay Marina, an oasis of liveaboards and recreational vessels. Children play on the piers and well-tended lawns. Once again, the humans are unmistakably in control.
The complete Flickr set.