After a military cargo listening session with the community, followed by a heated commissioner meeting and work session, the Port of Olympia commission Monday had a calm discussion about an idea that emerged from those gatherings — issuing a press release each time military cargo is set to pass through the port.
The idea was pitched by Commissioner Joe Downing, based on concerns shared about military cargo during the listening session last month. It is a controversial topic for some in Olympia. The last time military cargo passed through the port in late 2007, the shipments were met by protesters, which ultimately generated police protection and legal costs for the port and city of Olympia.
But Downing’s idea quickly evolved into talk of creating a resolution focused on cargo in general at the marine terminal. Commissioner Bill McGregor pushed for that additional step, while Commissioner E.J. Zita took it one step further, saying the proposed cargo resolution should include a provision that makes sure the marine terminal is meeting its financial goals.
If not, then perhaps the port needs to increase its tariff rates, Zita said.
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“We’re not going to move cargo as a charity,” she said. “We need to have realistic tariff rates that meet our expenses.”
Up first, though, was Downing, who pitched a four-step plan for notifying the public about military cargo at the port via a press release:
▪ Inform the public one week prior to a ship’s arrival, letting people know of the nature of the cargo and whether it’s being imported or exported, as permitted by the military.
▪ Request a statement from Joint Base Lewis-McChord explaining the purpose of the cargo and whether hazardous materials are involved.
▪ Under the direction of law enforcement, provide a one-block area for any demonstrators in favor of the cargo and a one-block area for any demonstrators against the cargo.
▪ Utilize proper law enforcement to ensure safety of peaceful demonstrators.
McGregor took issue with the last point, saying he would want to ensure the safety of all residents after what happened in 2007. He recalled residents sitting in their vehicles at street lights being threatened by protesters.
“What was happening then was not peaceful,” he said.
McGregor, though, was more interested in a resolution to address cargo — not specifically military cargo — at the port.
“I think we need to generate a resolution that the port is open for business to handle all cargoes that can be adequately handled by our current infrastructure,” he said.
Zita supported the idea.
“We should handle cargoes for which we have adequate infrastructure — if we are realistic about what infrastructure means — and if we also include a provision that we should meet our financial measures,” she said.
She questioned whether the port had the “appropriate infrastructure” in place if, when handling military cargo, it places a burden on the city of Olympia. And if the port finds itself in the position of having to reimburse another party, such as to the city, then it should be reflected in the port’s tariff.
And if the tariff isn’t adequate, it should be increased, she said.
Downing paused before responding.
“Our job is to move cargo,” he said. “It really is. That’s why we’re here, and that’s why they created the Port of Olympia, among other reasons.”
Downing said he was in favor of a resolution that reflects standard operating procedures at the port, enhanced with additional sensitivities.
In response to McGregor not wanting to mention military cargo in the proposed resolution, Zita suggested they simply refer to “controversial” cargo.
But he didn’t like that either. He said no matter the port’s cargo — logs, cattle, wind blades or ceramic proppants (fracking sand) — someone in the community has found it controversial.
Executive Director Ed Galligan attended Monday’s meeting after a recent vacation.
Galligan said little during the meeting until the end, when he said he was aware of the serious allegations that were made during his absence. But he wasn’t going to talk about it Monday night.
Instead, he said, he planned to save his comments for a future executive session.