Port candidates focus on earnings

OLYMPIA - Port of Olympia District 3 commission candidate Dave Peeler used his appearance at an Olympian editorial board meeting Thursday to squelch a perception that he would close the port’s marine terminal.

“No, I don’t want to close down the marine terminal,” he said. “I want to think about how it can actually make money as opposed to lose money.”

Peeler, 58, an environmental advocate for People for Puget Sound and Jeff Davis, 41, a longshoreman, were interviewed separately by the board on Thursday as part of a series of meetings with candidates in Thurston County races. Peeler retired from the state Department of Ecology last year after a 33-year career.

Both candidates offered ways to increase business at the marine terminal, although Peeler has noted in his campaign literature that he will “change or shut down operations that cost more than they return to the community.” He doesn’t specifically say in the literature that he will close the marine terminal.

Davis, in contrast, has staked out a very vocal position on doing all he can to make the marine terminal a success. For the Port of Olympia that means grabbing a larger share of certain niche industries, such as importing more wind farm blades, and doing a better job of marketing the marine terminal by getting the port into trade publications that cater to the cargo industry.

“We’re not advertised in them and we’re not talked about in them,” Davis said.

Davis added that there also is a perception about the port that it is not open to more cargo, a perception likely formed by past military shipment protests. “We need to turn that perception around,” he said.

Peeler, meanwhile, said one way to boost business at the marine terminal might be through the marine terminal warehouse. The port uses the warehouse to store garnet, a sand-like substance it imports from India and then repackages before the product is delivered to customers. Although the port has created jobs for those who transport materials to and from the port and for those who repackage garnet, it doesn’t involve a lot of jobs in Thurston County, he said.

“What else can we do to actually make better use of the warehouse to bring more business through here,” he said. Although he didn’t have a specific plan for the warehouse, there might be opportunities for creating jobs by attracting a “green” manufacturer to the port warehouse or to the port’s New Market Industrial Campus near Olympia Regional Airport, he said.

Peeler also acknowledged that the port is predicting more ship visits and that’s a good thing, he said.

The Campanula from Japan, which docked at the port at the end of September, was the 10th ship to dock at the marine terminal this year, up from four ships that docked at the port for all of 2008. The Campanula delivered Weyerhaeuser logs to Japan.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403