Port rejects committee plan

OLYMPIA - Two commissioners Monday turned down a proposal that would have allowed Port of Olympia critics to serve on committees aimed at reducing legal costs and creating a "citizen friendly" port budget.

Commissioner Paul Telford said he proposed the committees to try to quell criticism of port financial reporting and environmental decisions. His two commissioner colleagues overruled Telford.

"Unless you start listening to the criticism the port gets, nothing's going to change," Telford told fellow commissioners Bob Van Schoorl and Bill McGregor. "My desire is to get some of the noise down."

Instead, Van Schoorl and McGregor decided to turn Telford's concerns over to a port-appointed, 12-member advisory committee for review and possible discussion.

Various legal challenges to the port's environmental decisions have delayed by at least a year a plan to recruit a Weyerhaeuser log export business to Olympia from Tacoma. Port officials estimate the delays could cost the port $1.5 million in lost business from Federal Way-based Weyerhaeuser, which hoped to begin exporting logs in Olympia last August. In December, a city hearing examiner ruled that Olympia officials must do further study of the air quality, noise and lighting impacts from a Weyerhaeuser operation in Olympia.

Telford also suggested asking former Olympia Mayor Bob Jacobs and other critics of port finances to serve on a committee to simplify and clarify the port budget. Jacobs has frequently criticized the port for overlooking its depreciation expenses, those that measure the replacement costs of worn-out equipment. The port has projected a $110,000 operating surplus for this year, but it wound up with a $2.7 million operating loss after depreciation costs were factored in last year. The annual state auditor's review requires the port to factor in depreciation expenses.

McGregor and Van Schoorl said they preferred turning Telford's concerns over to the advisory committee, formed in the 1990s when the port approved its comprehensive development plan.

"We've got something already established," McGregor said. "I think we need to use it."

The commission has scheduled a Jan. 24 public workshop to review and possibly change its environmental approval process.