Continued fracking shipments through the Port of Olympia will erode the public’s trust and threaten the local economy. The port must act in accordance with local values.
Olympia and its port have a long relationship. Water-borne trade has always been a part of the city’s identity. Today the region and the port are working together to improve East Bay, Tumwater and Hawks Prairie, and to clean up Budd Inlet.
In spite of a robust set of shared objectives, irritation persists between the Port of Olympia and the community it serves. This tension continues because port commissioners are incapable of controlling the cargo that passes through the marine terminal.
Twenty-five years ago, Olympia recognized climate change as a serious threat that requires action. Since 1991, the city has consistently strengthened its response. The city has built climate protection into its work plan, addressing both carbon pollution and climate disruption. Today, rising sea-levels are pressuring Olympia, with repeated episodes of saltwater in the streets.
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For many years Olympia has called upon other governments to act on this profound threat to the region’s natural and economic systems. In 2014, the city formally asked the Port of Olympia to reconsider its role in the production of carbon fuels. However, the port has continued to ship fracking sands to America’s shale oil region. It’s a shame that the people of this region are in conflict with their own port because the port has great potential to build the local economy.
Fracking trade supports valuable family-wage jobs at the marine terminal. And the revenue from moving this cargo supports terminal operations. Port management says it must handle all legal cargo — asserting that if the revenue covers the costs, then the port must move the freight.
And yet, no matter how lucrative the fracking trade may be for the port, the sands’ real cost is not being counted. At home, the cost is being paid through lost shellfish production, wildfires, flooding and unreliable snow pack. Larger scale impacts include melting polar regions and monstrous storm events. It is time for the port to acknowledge the full cost of its actions.
The Port of Olympia must represent the values and interests of the citizens it serves — that is the purpose of government. The people of this region want to move beyond a carbon-based economy. The public servants at the port would do well to recognize the context of their operations and rebuild the public’s trust through responsive leadership.
Nathaniel Jones is a member of the Olympia City Council and serves as mayor pro tem. This column reflects his views only.