In recent weeks, staff and commissioners at the Port of Olympia have been approached by citizens questioning the port’s decision to receive and handle ceramic proppants imported from China at the port.
Ceramic proppants are small beads of sand coated with ceramic. Commonly referred to as “proppants” or “fracking sand”, the product is used in “hydraulic fracturing,” a method of extracting oil and gas from shale deep in the earth. These citizens are asking the port to turn this cargo away.
As a Commission, we believe this is a good time to explain the port’s decision-making process for whether to handle a specific cargo, including ceramic proppants, at the Port of Olympia.
Olympia has a long and storied history as a working waterfront handling global commerce. Indeed, Olympia was the first commercial harbor in Washington state, doing business with ports around the world 60 years before the state Legislature authorized the formation of Port Districts in 1911. The Olympia Port District was formed in 1922 so citizens and businesses could have fair and equal access to the waterfront.
Since that time, the port has been open to all legal cargo, with untold volumes and types of cargo having crossed the docks. The spirit of enterprise and commitment to economic prosperity has been the driving force of the Port of Olympia since its inception, and is reflected in the port’s mission to create economic opportunities by connecting Thurston County to the world by air, land and sea.
We recognize that at times cargoes some consider controversial have crossed our docks. Yet, the movement of these cargoes in international commerce is not regulated by the Port Commission, but instead by different federal and state authorities.
The port has a statutory obligation to engage in economic development, which conflicts with the suggested action to deny the movement of legal cargo across the port’s docks, nor does the port want to.
As individuals, we may have personal opinions about various cargoes, but collectively as a Port Commission, we are obligated to facilitate the Port Marine Terminal in carrying out its essential function in our national transportation system: to safely move cargo across our docks to and from national and international destinations.
The public debate as to whether other considerations should influence whether a particular cargo crosses our docks is best directed to those responsible for enacting and enforcing environmental, international trade and shipping laws.
At the end of the day, the Port Commission looks for the following when evaluating whether to handle cargo through the Port of Olympia:
• Can we safely handle and manage the cargo?
• Is the cargo legal?
• Does the cargo pose a health or safety risk to those handling the cargo?
• Has the cargo obtained all necessary permits?
• Do we have the room, the equipment, the infrastructure and labor appropriate for that cargo?
• In handling this cargo, will it help fulfill our trade and economic mission to the best of our ability and help promote our port?
The Port Commission encourages and supports citizens’ efforts and rights to express their opinions publicly. We hope that citizens maintain open communication with all of our public officials and in particular, with government officials responsible for enacting and enforcing laws that help us all live in a safe and prosperous community.
We also take this opportunity to tell our citizens that we consider it an honor and privilege to serve as Port Commissioners for Thurston County. We appreciate your continued support and welcome your comments.
George L. Barner Jr., Bill McGregor and Jeff Davis are the three members of the Olympia Port Commission.