In a surprise move, the Port of Olympia commission voted to reject all bids for a proposed second marine terminal warehouse Monday night, instead taking a cautionary step after warehouse critics had raised concerns about the overall environmental process.
Commissioners Sue Gunn and George Barner voted to reject all bids, while Commissioner Bill McGregor voted to move forward with the second warehouse. All three commissioners, however, voted to move forward with a related step: a master plan and a supplemental environmental impact statement for the marine terminal.
“This should move forward,” said McGregor about his decision to support awarding a bid. “I don’t see any reason to hold back.”
Twelve companies bid on the construction job for the second marine terminal warehouse, and the likely winner, had the commission voted to approve a bid, would’ve been Berschauer Construction Inc. of Olympia. The company bid $2.04 million for the job, port director of engineering Bill Helbig said.
But Gunn, and particularly Barner, got cold feet after Alex Smith, the port’s environmental programs director, recommended the commission address the supplemental environmental impact statement before moving forward with the warehouse, even though it was legally OK to move forward with the warehouse.
The legality wasn’t enough for Barner. “I want to make sure that we don’t stick our necks out and then have someone lop off our head,” he said.
Barner’s reaction stems from earlier citizen complaints that the proposed warehouse and related marine terminal work be addressed under a single environmental review process and not handled in piecemeal fashion. The port’s legal counsel found the port’s approach legally sound, but also recommended that the port update the environmental review of the marine terminal with a supplemental EIS.
The last program-level analysis of the marine terminal, under the state Environmental Policy Act, was done in 1994, Smith told the audience.
The supplemental EIS could take 18 to 24 months to complete, barring any appeals or legal challenges.
That made Robert Rose, business agent for the ILWU Local 47, chuckle. “I’ll bet next week’s paycheck that there will be a legal challenge,” he said.
Rose urged the commission to approve the bid for the warehouse and treat it as business as usual because the marine terminal continued to carry on during the 1994 environmental review. McGregor agreed but was outvoted.
Prior to the vote, the commission heard almost two hours of public testimony about the second warehouse, which was slated to be filled with fracking sand. Several raised concerns about fracking, the environment and climate change, while others — including a large contingent of longshore workers — voiced their support for the port, the second warehouse and jobs.
Gunn said everyone was right: They’re right to worry about jobs and to worry about the future of the planet. Gunn, too, is worried about the future, she said.
The port needs a second warehouse because its existing warehouse is filled with cargo, including ceramic proppants, also known as fracking sand. The proppants, which are imported from China, are used in the hydraulic fracturing process to remove oil from deep underground.