Port of Olympia told it has no say in Tacoma port's Maytown sale

Port of Olympia commissioners don't plan to challenge the Port of Tacoma's pending sale of Maytown property after a lawyer told them Wednesday that they have no legal basis to intervene.

The two ports agreed in 2006 to jointly develop and operate what would be known as the South Sound Logistics Center on the Maytown property. Amid the specter of reduced cargo volume and public opposition to the proposal, they dissolved the partnership in June 2008, when an interlocal agreement expired.

The interlocal agreement allowed the Port of Tacoma to buy the property; state law prohibits a port from operating in another port’s jurisdiction without authorization.

The Port of Tacoma recently announced plans to sell the 745-acre property. Port of Olympia commissioners had concerns about an ancillary agreement tied to the sale that they suspected would allow the Tacoma port to retain an interest in the use of the property. The agreement grants the Tacoma port a royalty from any sale by the new owner, Maytown Sand and Gravel LLC, of up to 65 acres of the property for rail uses.

The Olympia port retained land-use attorney Sandy Mackie as special counsel to review and brief the commissioners on the matter. Mackie and Ed Galligan, the port’s executive director, met with Port of Tacoma representatives Tuesday.

George Barner, the president of the port commission, earlier suspected that the agreement might be a way for the Port of Tacoma to revive a rail yard, one function of the proposed South Sound Logistics Center.

Mackie said he received assurances during his meeting with the Port of Tacoma that it’s not dictating that the property be sold to a railroad or for a specific purpose. Instead, Mackie said, the agreement is seen as avenue to recoup some of the $10 million loss on the sale.

“To me, that is not a port activity,” he said. “That is merely retaining an economic interest.”

The lone condition that the Port of Olympia placed on the Port of Tacoma if they parted ways under the interlocal agreement was for the Port of Tacoma to sell the property. As a result, Mackie said, the Port of Olympia has no legal basis to criticize or object to the terms of the sale.

“You required them to divest the property but retained no right to determine the terms of the divestiture,” he said.

Barner expressed frustration because it appears the port has “little or no leverage on the sales process that is going forward.”

Sharron Coontz, a spokeswoman for Friends of Rocky Prairie, attended the meeting and said afterward that the Port of Tacoma has made it clear in the past it wants a rail yard in the area. Her group opposes heavy industrial use on the property and favors its conservation.

“This may be their way of trying to finesse it,” she said, referring to the Port of Tacoma.

“I’m hopeful that Sandy was told the whole story by the port’s attorney and the port, and that this is accurate, but I’m cautious.”

Christian Hill: 360-754-5427