More than 30 people shared their views about the possibility of military cargo passing through the Port of Olympia during a community listening session held Monday in Tumwater.
The meeting, organized by the Port Commission, was the latest in a series of efforts to get feedback about the potential for military cargo to pass through the port. Two previous meetings were held on the topic by Commissioner E.J. Zita, but as a citizen, not as a commissioner.
The port is viewed as a strategic alternative destination for Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Although an almost equal number of people spoke in favor and against military cargo, some referenced a story that appeared in Monday’s Olympian that disclosed port emails and the ongoing efforts of port staff to bring that cargo business here. According to the emails, May, September and the week of Sept. 16-23 were mentioned as possible shipping dates.
Denis Langhans of Olympia, one of the first to speak Monday, said he was surprised by the “lack of candor and transparency on an issue of real community sensitivity.”
Walt Jorgensen of Tumwater was one of two men who read The Olympian story to the commission. After he was done, he said the port’s credibility had plummeted to a new low.
“There’s no other way to say it: Somebody’s been lying to me, and I resent it,” he said.
“Our faith and trust have been violated,” Chris Carson of Olympia added.
Mike Pelly of Olympia questioned the honesty around how the military shipments discussion has been handled.
“We want you to act like public servants and not do deals behind our backs,” he told the commission.
Military cargo last rolled through the port in late 2007. That action was met by protesters, and ultimately resulted in police protection and legal costs for the port and city of Olympia.
Although many have wanted specific answers about military cargo at the port, the meeting was structured for the commission to listen and not respond. Executive Director Ed Galligan spoke at the top of the meeting.
“To the best of our knowledge, there is no military shipment that is going to come through the Port of Olympia in 2016,” he told the audience. “It also is highly unlikely in 2017, but that does not mean we couldn’t get a phone call tomorrow from JBLM.”
He pointed out the cargo could be a humanitarian or disaster relief effort for the military. He said that port staff is in periodic contact with the military, as they are with every potential shipper. Galligan, too, has participated in leadership seminars at JBLM, he said, and every time there is a command change at the joint base, they visit the port.
Many spoke in favor of military cargo at the port.
“I want the port to continue to support the use of our port by the military,” Jon Cushman of Olympia said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
“The port should be afforded an opportunity to exercise its role as an alternative port,” said Bill Adamson, program manager for the South Sound Military & Communities Partnership.
Greg Bucove of Olympia commented on The Olympian story, saying the emails show that Galligan is just doing his job.
“If he wasn’t talking to everybody who has the potential to do business with the port, he wouldn’t be doing his job,” he said. He also praised the commission, saying they have “bent over backwards to be as transparent as they can be.”
Marine Terminal Director Len Faucher said after the meeting that a potential shipping deal with the military is not as near-term as the emails made it sound.
“There’s a lot of back and forth and discussions and negotiations,” he said.
The port commission will meet again at 2:30 p.m. Thursday at 626 Columbia St. NW, Suite 1-B, Olympia, WA 98501.