Crowd focuses on newest port commissioner

Recently elected Sue Gunn, other officials hear testimony on new crane, fracking industry

rboone@theolympian.comJanuary 14, 2014 

Olympia port commissioner candidate Sue Gunn greets supporters during an election night party at the Urban Onion restaurant in downtown Olympia on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013. Early results showed Gunn leading her race.

TONY OVERMAN; STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Recently elected Port of Olympia commissioner, scientist and environmentalist Sue Gunn took part in her first commission meeting Monday night, an appearance that energized several in the audience to air their concerns about the port or to praise the port’s operations.

Residents raised concerns about the port’s planned $5 million investment in a mobile marine terminal crane, the import of ceramic proppants — a product used in an oil extraction process called fracking — and one said that Gunn’s election had inspired him to attend his first commission meeting in three years.

Peter Overton of Tumwater praised the port for its export of logs and how that business supports tree farms and other businesses.

“The marine terminal is the last major industrial operation in Olympia,” he said. “The whole community benefits from this facility, not just forestry.”

Others raised concerns about bagged, ceramic proppants.

Robert Whitlock of Olympia told the commission he is working with an organization called MoveOn.org to collect signatures for a petition he plans to present to the commission, asking them to stop supporting the fracking industry.

So far he has collected 579 signatures, he said. He added that he is concerned about the environment, society and humanity and that fracking represents “economic overreach” and the application of an “extreme energy technology.”

Gunn, who also is concerned about proppants, said she looks forward to Whitlock gathering more signatures.

Chris Mendoza of Olympia congratulated Gunn on her election and said he felt re-engaged to attend a port meeting after a three-year absence. He told the commission the port needs a new vision and questioned the wisdom of operating a log yard on prime real estate when it might be put to a better use.

The commission responded to some of that testimony.

In light of the fact that the port’s existing cranes are going away, Commissioner Bill McGregor said the port’s planned investment in a mobile crane means that the port will continue to compete for cargo.

About a dozen longshore workers of ILWU Local 47 also attended but did not speak during the public comment portion.

Afterward, business agent Robert Rose said they attended so they could learn more about the new commissioner.

But he also said longshore has met with Gunn and that there is a willingness to listen and work together. They won’t agree on everything, Rose said, but there is common ground.

As for concerns about proppants, Rose said that if the port doesn’t import the material, then several other ports in the region will jump at the chance to get that business.

“Why would we give it away when someone else is going to do it?” Rose said.

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

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