The Port of Olympia commission voted 2-1 Monday night to seek bids for a proposed fuel dock, reaching that decision after two hours of public testimony and commissioner discussion.
Commissioners Joe Downing and Bill McGregor voted to move forward, while Commissioner E.J. Zita said the project needs more analysis.
Zita read a statement about her decision, questioning the costs and benefits of the fuel dock as they relate to the economy, the environment and the community. Although work has started on the economic projections for the fuel dock, Zita said not enough has been done to evaluate it in all three areas.
“We need to complete our analysis on the economy, environment and community for this project, and then we will be in a better position to make a good decision,” she said. “I don’t feel ready to make a decision on this project without planning guidelines and more analysis.”
McGregor felt otherwise, saying the port needs to see how bids line up with the port’s cost estimates to build the fuel dock. The port’s estimate is $2.57 million. If the bids are in line with the port’s financial analysis, the port could award the construction contract in early August, with the fuel dock operational by February 2017.
Downing said marine facilities should be complete. They should have pump-outs (for toilets), fuel docks and decent docks, he said.
“I have no problem getting behind this fuel dock,” Downing said.
But Downing had to weather a conflict-of-interest charge during the meeting. Some in the community, including in a recent letter to The Olympian, have questioned whether his background as an Olympia Yacht Club member should be grounds for him to recuse himself from voting on the matter.
Zita sought clarity on the issue by asking port legal counsel about the apparent conflict of interest. Legal counsel determined there was no conflict.
That led Downing to explain his background, saying that he and his wife are longtime sailboat owners who have moored the boat at three different marinas in the area, including at the yacht club. His wife also is a past commodore of the yacht club.
“Sailing is in my blood,” he said.
Before the commission reached its decision Monday night, they heard a range of public testimony, including from a number of boaters in favor of the project. For many of them, a fuel dock would mean they wouldn’t need to bring their own fuel cans in to fill their boats, which can lead to spills, they said. One boater said the port needs to sell its fuel at a competitive price, while another raised concerns about contaminated soils.
The fuel dock is proposed for the end of A-dock at Swantown Marina, near the boat launch. The underground tanks to provide the fuel would be buried in the ground west of the dock. Dean French of Olympia warned the port about “possible cost overruns” if those soils are contaminated and need to be disposed of elsewhere.
Some people testified against the fuel dock. If boaters are worried about spilling fuel from their cans, Judy Bardin, a recent Olympia City Council candidate, raised the prospect of a fuel dock-related spill into Budd Inlet. She called it an “unnecessary environmental risk.”
Former Olympia Mayor Bob Jacobs suggested the commission drop the idea of a fuel dock, saying the port has invested in too many money-losing ideas over the years.
“We don’t need another one,” he said.