Olympia Stand, an anti-fracking protest that has occupied a section of railroad tracks in downtown Olympia since last week, could be in the final days of its protest after The Olympian learned Tuesday that Union Pacific Railroad, the Washington State Patrol and the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office are assessing whether to remove the camp Thursday.
That’s according to Port of Olympia Commissioner E.J. Zita, who visited the camp early Tuesday.
“My primary concern is public safety,” she said about her decision to visit the site.
The blockade has prevented a train, thought to be 13 cars long and filled mostly with ceramic proppants, or fracking sand, from leaving the port and heading south through town. The camp is near Seventh Avenue and Jefferson Street.
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Zita shared information with an Olympian reporter Tuesday after she spoke to port Executive Director Ed Galligan.
Galligan confirmed that officials with Rainbow Ceramics, the China-based company that exports proppants to North Dakota through the port, are concerned that if they don’t get a shipment this month to two companies doing business in North Dakota and Wyoming, they “run the risk of losing their business.”
“We are very concerned about the safety of everybody involved,” Galligan said. “We respect the rights of people to protest, but to interfere with interstate commerce is a very serious issue.”
Union Pacific announced and posted eviction notices at the camp early Tuesday. Spokesman Justin Jacobs said he was aware of the situation in Olympia and that they regularly work with local law enforcement.
Jacobs said it boils down to safety and security and the obligation to transport goods.
“At the end of the day, they are on private property and trespassing and can be cited and removed,” Jacobs said.
“We’re committed to being a good community partner and we’d like them to leave on their own accord,” he said.
The Olympia Police Department has decided not to get involved in breaking up the camp unless the situation spills from the private railroad property onto city streets, said Olympia Police Lt. Paul Lower.
But Lower said department officials believe that the protest could pose a threat to community safety — especially in light of fliers that have been posted throughout downtown Olympia.
“Don’t cooperate with the police. Our goal should not be to appear legitimate, but to stop fracking by any means necessary,” the fliers read.
“We recognize that there is a high potential here for them to come out onto city streets,” Lower said of the protesters. “Especially since they’re saying they’ll use any means necessary.”
The fliers ask people to prepare their own blockades, and read, “Water protectors in North Dakota have disabled cars, burned tires, and torched mining equipment to protect their land.”
Protesters at the camp have been unwilling to be named or quoted by reporters.
“We are in this for the long haul,” one woman said.
Meanwhile, a number of people shared their concerns about fracking during Monday’s Port of Olympia commission meeting, which included some of the protesters.
The port is not directly involved in fracking, but it does handle the proppants when it is imported through the port to aid in the removal of Bakken crude.
Longshore workers handle that product when it is unloaded at the port, and they shared their disappointment Monday about the downtown protest and Zita.
Some on Monday accused her of trying to shut down the marine terminal.
In all, about 50 people attended the meeting, but not everyone got to speak.
The port regularly sets aside 30 minutes for public comment, and Commissioner Bill McGregor cut it off after about 30 minutes, leaving a few people dismayed. He told them they could speak later in the meeting, but not all of them waited. The meeting started at 5:30 p.m., but by about 8 p.m. the commission still was working its way through the agenda.
Zoltan Grossman of Olympia, who teaches at The Evergreen State College, reminded the commission that he and others have testified before the commission before, questioning the port’s ties to fracking and the problems caused by the process.
Yet, he said, the port has chosen not to listen.
“Although I haven’t been involved in planning the train blockade, it comes as no surprise,” he said. “You chose not to listen to us older citizens, so now you’ll have to listen to the younger people at the forefront of the blockade.”
One woman, who identified herself as a student but who left shortly after she spoke, shared her concerns about the impact of fossil fuels.
“We care about the world, and we care about the future,” she said. “All we ask is that you care about our future, too.”
Longshore worker Duane Napoleon said they have the right to protest, but they’re “stopping work that shouldn’t be stopped.”
“They want to stop me from working, and I don’t appreciate that,” he said. “I wouldn’t do that to them.”
He said Zita is trying to push an agenda to close the marine terminal, and he wanted a direct answer on whether she supports the marine terminal.
“I’d rather have an honest enemy than have someone double-talk me all day,” he said.
Zita denied wanting to close the marine terminal. “I have not said that,” she said, “but I am concerned about its financial performance.
“If it’s going to survive, it needs to meet our financial measures,” Zita said. “We need to think about how to do better for you (the longshore workers) and the community.”
Perhaps Commissioner Joe Downing had the most interesting response to public comment: He announced that he voted for Hillary Clinton for president.
How did that relate to Monday’s discussion? You can’t judge a book by its cover. “There are many sides to an issue and we need to continue to have that dialogue,” he said.
Downing also said he had talked to an anti-fracking protester.
“I don’t necessarily equate shipping proppants to North Dakota with whether we should have a pipeline to get oil and gas distributed,” he said, referring to the Dakota Access Pipeline, which is under protest near Bismark, North Dakota.
“And I don’t necessarily agree with blocking trains,” Downing said. “Make your voices known and move on to the next issue.”