The Olympia City Council moved its public business meeting to another room late Tuesday after anti-fracking demonstrators interrupted the proceedings at City Hall.
The demonstration was organized through a Facebook page for Olympia Stand, the group behind an early November protest camp that blocked train tracks for a week in downtown Olympia. Olympia police helped clear the scene Nov. 18 in a confrontation in which the police used non-lethal flash grenades and pepperballs. Twelve people were arrested.
Late Tuesday, at least two dozen people began chanting outside council chambers not long after Mayor Cheryl Selby reiterated a request for civil protests. The council voted to relocate the meeting — and its upcoming public hearings for several city proposals — to a small conference space upstairs in Room 207.
Participants in the public hearing included city staff and anyone who signed up to comment for those hearings. Media also attended. An audio recording of the meeting will be available online, according to the city.
City officials said it marked the first time the council had relocated a meeting because of protesters.
The Port of Olympia’s shipments of fracking materials have long been controversial, but carry more resonance with the recent Dakota Access Pipeline demonstrations at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota.
Last month, Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts denounced the port for adhering to policies that cause protests and clash with community values.
“It angers me to have to put our officers in combat gear and face off with members in our community over something I don’t believe in myself,” Roberts told the council Nov. 22. He has declined to comment further on his statement.
However, the chief’s comments have fueled the flames over whether the port should continue to accept fracking-related cargo.
Ed Galligan, executive director of the Port of Olympia, said the chief’s comments have had “severe negative consequences.”
He said port offices have been vandalized, and at least one port employee has been harassed by anti-fracking protesters.
“My staff heard that statement (by the chief) as blaming them for criminal activities that required intervention,” Galligan told the council Tuesday before the meeting was relocated. “They question whether they will be safe. … My staff does not deserve this treatment.”
At the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, Selby delivered a statement on tension and debate surrounding fracking and energy policies. She said the port is still a strategic partner with the city and that “our relationship is bigger than a single issue.
“Like most complex issues, there’s rarely an easy answer,” she said, noting the city will protect its residents’ right to protest. “We stand for everybody’s rights.”
Olympia resident Bourtai Hargrove was among public commenters who called on the city to demand that the port stop shipping fracking materials. Hargrove praised the “brave young people who blocked the train” last month.
“Every trainload of fracking supplies means more oil will be produced and burned,” said Hargrove, adding that municipalities could soon bear the responsibility for addressing climate change. “Opposition to distant pipelines is essential and important, but it is also important to take a stand on what is happening in our community.”