Port to continue funding communities

Port board restores $40,000 payments to 4 towns; fracking also a topic of discussion

rboone@theolympian.comApril 15, 2014 

The Port of Olympia received the Port of the Year award from the Washington Public Ports Association in 2013. Photo taken 11/21

STEVE BLOOM — Staff photographer Buy Photo

A division of the Port of Olympia known as the Economic Development Corporation reversed course on Monday and voted to rescind an earlier decision that ended a program providing economic assistance to area communities.

The EDC board includes the three port commissioners — George Barner, Sue Gunn and Bill McGregor — and two volunteers, Dan Neuhauser and Dick Wadley.

In March, the board voted to end a program in existence since 2011 that provides $40,000 a year to four small communities for economic development purposes.

But Heather Burgess, a member of the port’s legal counsel, said the March vote was not in line with the interlocal agreement between the EDC and the four communities that receive the funding: Bucoda, Tenino, Rainier and Yelm.

In short, the board can’t end the program without funding the program this year, so the EDC board rescinded the prior vote, leaving the program in place through the end of the year.

Rescinding gives the port until the end of the year to further assess the small-city funding program, and whether it should remain under the auspices of the EDC.

The program largely has the support of the port’s citizen advisory committee, which recommended to the EDC to continue the program.

Committee member Clydia Cuykendall supports the assistance because the funds go to communities that have less access to the port’s operations, yet they still pay a property tax levy supporting the port.

But fellow committee member Richard Wolf disagreed, saying the program should end.

The funding does not meet the economic development mission of the port, it’s a waste of taxpayer money and the ultimate funding authority should fall to the port commission, not a board that includes two volunteers, Wolf said following the EDC board meeting.

“The port creates economic development by growing the port’s operations,” he said.

 

PETITION ON FRACKING

 

During the public testimony portion of Monday night’s port commission meeting, which followed the EDC board meeting, Robert Whitlock of Olympia presented four copies of a petition with more than 1,300 signatures to the commission. The petition calls on the port to stop supporting fracking. The port imports ceramic proppants, or fracking sand, which is used to help remove oil and gas from deep shale fissures. Another speaker, Michael Savoca of Rainier, who also signed the petition, spoke out against fracking at the meeting.

Wolf raised questions about transparency and Commissioner Gunn’s slideshow on fracking two weeks ago.

Wolf called that presentation “inappropriately timed,” saying it was done to appease Gunn’s constituency and to influence the commission.

The commission voted to receive bids for a warehouse that would store ceramic proppant during that meeting, and Wolf said Gunn’s presentation should have been shown earlier.

“That’s certainly not the way to foster an open and transparent public process,” Wolf said.

The port commission can respond to public comment but did not respond to Wolf’s comments.

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

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