Port agenda missed point, parties agree

rboone@theolympian.comApril 3, 2014 

A group staging an informational picket protesting the unloading of ceramic proppants from China for use in Hydrofracturing, or fracking unfurl a long banner from the Port of Olympia observation tower Monday across from the cargo ship Kai Xuan as it unloads that shipment March 18, 2013.The ceramic components are used in the opening process on fractured cracks in the earth and are destined for the Bakken Formation located in North Dakota and Montana.

STEVE BLOOM/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Last week’s Port of Olympia commission meeting, based on the agenda that was published, looked to be a routine affair. The three-member commission was set to weigh four action items, including whether to approve bids for a second marine terminal warehouse.

But last Monday’s meeting was anything but routine as more than 50 people showed up, turning the meeting into a lengthy discussion about fracking — the oil extraction process taking place deep underground in North Dakota — and the ceramic proppants the port imports to assist in that process.

The meeting also included a PowerPoint presentation from commissioner Sue Gunn, who highlighted her concerns about fracking and explained her no vote on whether to approve bids for a second warehouse.

But how did so many people know to attend the meeting or that Gunn would make a presentation on fracking when it wasn’t on the agenda?

It turns out an earlier port commission retreat, word of mouth and even a letter to the editor of The Olympian might have filled in the blanks that the agenda for the March 24 meeting didn’t cover.

That has led Clydia Cuykendall, a member of the port’s citizen advisory committee since 2010, to call for the port commission to be more transparent.

“I’m not looking to catch them in a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act,” she said Wednesday. “I’m looking for common ground and transparency,” adding that being more transparent was something that commissioner Gunn campaigned on and that Cuykendall believes in, too.

“I believe all of them, not just her, should walk the talk,” she said.

Cuykendall said she learned that Gunn was going to make a presentation on fracking, following the port commission retreat March 20.

After that, she sent an email to each commissioner, requesting that the agenda for March 24 be amended to reflect that presentation. But it never was, she said.

Cuykendall learned during the March 24 meeting that perhaps Gunn’s presentation did not need to be on the agenda because her presentation was shown in the context of responding to public testimony.

Gunn could not be reached Wednesday, but commissioners George Barner and Bill McGregor said they think the commission has done a good job of being transparent. McGregor pointed out that the release dates for commission meeting agendas has been moved up to give people more time to review them.

But they’re also not against the idea of a more detailed agenda, particularly if Gunn makes regular PowerPoint presentations, McGregor said.

“I don’t think that hurts anything and opens it up to more transparency,” he said.

Although the March 24 agenda was not amended to reflect Gunn’s presentation, that appears to be in line with Open Public Meetings Act requirements for special-purpose districts such as the port and its regular commission meetings, said Alex Smith.

Smith is the environmental director for the port, but she’s also the contact for the port’s outside legal counsel.

“The OPMA does not require special-purpose districts to provide agendas in advance; however, the port typically does provide prior public notice of preliminary agendas,” she said in an email. “The OPMA does not preclude adding items to the agenda at a regular meeting.”

The rules for special port meetings, though, such as the one Thursday on agriculture infrastructure, are more specific. The agenda for that meeting provides details on the speakers and time of each presentation.

Commissioner Barner acknowledged that not including Gunn’s presentation on the March 24 agenda may have been a disservice to the public. He’s open to being more transparent, too.

“More information, additional information, that makes sense to me,” he said. “I’m OK with that.”

The port’s agriculture infrastructure meeting is set for 2:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m. Thursday at The Olympia Center, 222 Columbia St. NW, Olympia.

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

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