Farmers market at center of campaigns

Incumbent attempts to assuage worries that port commission might try to eliminate market

rboone@theolympian.comSeptember 17, 2013 

The Olympia Farmers Market continues to be an early campaign issue for the District 3 Port of Olympia Commission race, with incumbent Jeff Davis once again defending comments he made about the market that he says have been taken out of context.

Davis and challenger Sue Gunn appeared Monday at an Olympia Rotary Club luncheon at the Red Lion Hotel Olympia, fielding questions from the meeting moderator and the audience.

The gathering, which also included Thurston County auditor candidates Gary Alexander and Mary Hall, was moderated by Olympian Publisher George Le Masurier.

One of the audience questions was about the market’s future and whether the port would take back the market space for marine terminal storage.

“The answer is no,” Davis told the audience, adding that the commission and the port staff are not at all interested in eliminating the farmers market.

After the meeting, Davis explained that in the past he has jokingly said the port might have to take back the market space because of the port’s growing storage needs.

Gunn, though, has seized on those comments and made them part of her Sue Gunn for Port Commissioner website, which includes a video of Davis during a port commission meeting.

Gunn, who said she has been endorsed by 57 vendors at the market, said the vendors are concerned about their relationship with the port.

“It feels adversarial to them,” she said, although she acknowledged that the port has taken steps to reduce the cost of the farmers market lease.

Port districts aren’t allowed to operate farmers markets, so the port signed a ground lease with the city of Olympia, which owns the buildings at the market.

Gunn and Davis also were asked their opinions about Capitol Lake and the port’s property tax levy, which will generate $4.8 million this year.

Although the future of Capitol Lake does not rest in the port commission’s hands, Gunn said she supports turning the lake into an estuary, meaning the water would rise and fall with the tide, and at low tide it would be a mud flat. Davis said he is receptive to an estuary, but only if there is money in place for regular dredging of the Budd Inlet shipping channel because of the sediment that is expected to build up over time.

Regarding the levy, Gunn said she supports reducing the tax and that the port’s business units should operate in the black.

Davis wanted to make clear to the audience that the revenue generated by the levy does not pay for port operations — it is used to pay down debt and for environmental cleanup — and that the port’s levy rate of about 20 cents per $1,000 of assessed value is relatively low. Port districts are allowed to levy up to 45 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, according to the Washington Public Ports Association.

Davis, 45, was elected to the commission in 2009. He is a longshore worker who works mostly in the Longview area.

Gunn, 65, holds a doctorate in isotope geochemistry. She also has been involved in environmental causes, including as director of budgets and appropriations with The Wilderness Society.

Davis and Gunn have had no problems raising money. Davis has raised almost $22,000, while Gunn has raised $12,700. Labor groups are the top contributors to the Davis campaign, while Gunn has received most of her funds from individuals.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403 rboone@theolympian.com

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