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‘Criminalize economic terrorism’ bill gets cool response from Port of Olympia commissioners

Protesters stand Tuesday outside a campsite that blocks railroad tracks in downtown Olympia. The protesters say they are against shipments of material used in fracking entering the country at the Port of Olympia.
Protesters stand Tuesday outside a campsite that blocks railroad tracks in downtown Olympia. The protesters say they are against shipments of material used in fracking entering the country at the Port of Olympia. Staff file, 2016

Two Port of Olympia commissioners say that a proposed bill to “criminalize economic terrorism” — partly inspired by an anti-fracking protest downtown — is unnecessary and that there are better ways to resolve the blockade.

The Olympian asked Commissioners Joe Downing and E.J. Zita what they thought of the bill state Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, proposed Wednesday that would increase the penalty for those “protests that block transportation and commerce, cause property damage, threaten jobs and put public safety at risk.”

Commissioner Bill McGregor could not be reached.

Ericksen’s bill would increase the penalty for such protests from a misdemeanor to a Class C felony. It also would allow prosecutors to go after those who sponsor or fund such protests. It would not apply to peaceful protests, such as pickets and strikes.

In an email shared with The Olympian, Commissioner Zita took a dim view of the lawmaker’s proposal.

“The constitutionality of the state legislator's recommendations are under serious question,” she said.

Instead, she said she would like to see the port follow the city of Olympia’s example by trying to reach peaceful resolutions.

“I hope the port will follow the city's good example and work together to de-escalate the situation, instead of escalating it,” Zita said.

Downing sent an email that showed existing state and federal laws that can be imposed on those who interfere with railroads. In both cases they are already considered felonies.

“I’m not sure the state needs another bill in that regard,” Commissioner Joe Downing said.

He also said the protesters have gotten their message across.

“I hear their concerns,” said Downing about the protest that began on Nov. 11 and set up camp on railroad tracks near Seventh Avenue and Jefferson Street that trains leaving the port use.

“The protest is valid and they got their message across,” Downing said. “Beyond that, actually interfering with trains is not a good thing.”

A team of police officers and City of Olympia staff cleared the dayslong protest camp from the railroad tracks in downtown Olympia early Friday morning, allowing a train carrying ceramic proppants, or fracking sand, to pass through.

The group was protesting the oil and gas removal process known as fracking, and the port’s ties to that industry. The port handles a cargo called ceramic proppants, or fracking sand, that is used in that extraction process in places like North Dakota and Wyoming.

Critics of fracking say it is harmful to the environment, fouling ground and surface water, and has caused earthquakes in places not known for seismic activity. Supporters say the environmental effects are inconclusive and that it promotes energy independence for the United States.

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