Port of Olympia candidates differ on marine terminal

Challenger Sue Gunn says Jeff Davis, a longshoreman, is biased; Davis claims he avoids conflicts of interest

Staff writerOctober 10, 2013 

District 3 Port of Olympia Commission candidate Sue Gunn and incumbent Jeff Davis respond to questions during the Monday luncheon meeting held by the Rotary Club at the Red Lion Hotel Olympia. County auditor candidates Gary Alexander and Mary Hall also fielded questions.

STEVE BLOOM/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Two candidates for Port of Olympia commissioner have different visions for the marine terminal at the port.

Challenger Sue Gunn told The Olympian editorial board that incumbent commissioner Jeff Davis is a longshore worker and, because of his employment, might be predisposed to focus only on the marine terminal and ignore other economic development opportunities at the port.

Gunn is challenging Davis for the District 3 port commission seat in the Nov. 5 election.

Gunn also answered questions and outlined some of her thoughts on several port-related issues. Davis made a separate appearance before the board to talk about his role and goals for the port.

Gunn, who said one goal is to broadly represent the community, questioned whether Davis’ priorities were too focused on the marine terminal because he is a longshoreman.

“I think it represents a special interest,” she told the board.

But Davis, who works mostly as a longshore worker at the Port of Longview, said he has been careful to avoid potential conflicts of interest by abstaining from dock worker issues that come before the commission.

He said he has worked a total of 16 hours as a longshoreman at the Port of Olympia since he was elected nearly four years ago.

But Davis added that he would “take that criticism,” from Gunn because when he was elected in 2009 the marine terminal was not what it is today.

He said it was only natural to focus on what needed to be improved, including pushing for a new roof on the marine terminal warehouse, before focusing on other areas of economic development.

Davis said the port’s import of ceramic proppants — a material used in an oil and gas extraction process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — is expected, along with the steel coil and pipe that arrives on those same ships, to generate more revenue than log exports for the marine terminal.

That doesn’t sit well with Gunn, who is concerned about the “fracking sands,” and wants to evaluate port cargo in terms of its environmentally stable status.

Davis countered that the proppants are a legal cargo and that they do not have an immediate impact on the citizens of Thurston County. He said his measuring stick for cargo is whether it would be harmful to residents in the area.

Gunn said her larger goal is to bring the port into the 21st century, including reducing the “taxpayer burden.”

The Port of Olympia levies a property tax of about 20 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, which will generate $4.8 million in revenue this year. That money is used to pay down debt and for environmental cleanup.

Although her goal is to reduce the levy, a plan hasn’t materialized just yet.

“That’s a goal for me — to make that analysis and do that research,” she said.

Gunn has won the support of Olympia Farmers Market vendors who, she says, are concerned about the port and whether it will possibly encroach on their operations for more marine terminal storage.

Gunn said there is “genuine concern” among the vendors.

Davis, who said Gunn created an issue where there wasn’t one, pointed out that the port recently restructured the farmers market lease.

“We sat down with them and at the end of the day we acquiesced on every single demand that they had,” he said.

Davis continued: “I think they got a fair deal. I would like to see them succeed in their current location. I’m a fan of the market and I always have been.”

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, 45, was elected to the commission in 2009.

Money continues to pour in for both candidates, the combined total now approaching $45,000.

Davis has raised nearly $27,600, with most funds coming from labor groups, while Gunn has raised about $16,400, with most of her contributions coming from individuals, according to state Public Disclosure Commission data.

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

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