The Port of Olympia commission is expected to vote later this month on a proposal to rename the port’s Marine Drive for Nisqually tribal activist Billy Frank Jr.
That was the outcome of a long commission meeting on Monday. But before the commission took that step, they heard from the public about the proposal.
The proposal, first submitted to the port by Olympia City Councilman Nathaniel Jones, calls for the tree-lined area of Marine Drive, near the East Bay shoreline, to be renamed by Oct. 12. That’s Indigenous Peoples Day, also observed as Columbus Day.
“It reflects Billy Frank Jr.’s relationship to the shore and the water, and all things associated with the sea, and our relationship with the water as well,” Jones said Monday about that choice of location.
But Keith Bausch of Local 47, the longshoreman’s union that serves the port’s marine terminal, said the union is opposed to the renaming proposal because the port’s critics could use the name against the port.
Marine Drive is the primary route for trucks headed to the marine terminal. Bausch said if those trucks haul anything that is perceived as controversial, the port’s critics will say the activity “dishonors Frank’s name.”
Bausch suggested an alternative street for renaming: Evergreen Parkway in west Olympia.
“Put it right on the freeway where the exit for The Evergreen State College is,” he said.
Bausch’s opposition was countered by Brian Frisina, also known as Raven Redbone, who presented the commission with a petition signed by more than 500 people who support the renaming.
Frisina called Frank, who died in 2014, the “Nelson Mandela” of the area, citing his work on tribal fishing rights that ultimately led to the Boldt decision.
Jim Peters of the Squaxin Island Tribe also spoke in support of the renaming.
The commission, meanwhile, wrestled with the proposal.
Commissioner E.J. Zita has shown the most support for the proposal, calling it a “gesture of honor” on Monday.
Commissioners Bill McGregor and Joe Downing also have been supportive, but are concerned about adhering to the port’s naming policy, which, among other details, calls for a two-month public comment process.
“There will be another Indigenous Peoples Day next year, and the road (Marine Drive) is not going away,” McGregor said. “I want to think this through and use the policy as it was designed.”
Downing suggested getting feedback from Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater and Thurston County officials, but Zita raised concerns about introducing “new obstacles” for the renaming proposal.
A different section of Marine Drive at the north end of the port peninsula — in addition to along East Bay — also was suggested for renaming because the Squaxin Island Tribe hosted a tribal canoe journey there a few years ago.
Frisina and Peters said they were open to an alternative location. Peters, too, said he would like to see the renaming happen Oct. 12, but if not, next year works, too.
“If you have to go through the process, I understand,” he said.
“Either of those places would work for me because it’s honoring Billy Frank,” Frisina added.
The commission expects to take action on the renaming proposal on Sept. 25.