Resolution: Fracking cargo will be allowed at Port of Olympia

Law enforcement officers stand watch as a train carrying ceramic proppant materials moves out of downtown Olympia early on Friday, Nov. 18, 2016.
Law enforcement officers stand watch as a train carrying ceramic proppant materials moves out of downtown Olympia early on Friday, Nov. 18, 2016. toverman@theolympian.com

The Port of Olympia will continue to receive and ship fracking-related cargo, according to a resolution the port commissioners issued in response to local opposition.

The resolution says the port will comply with all laws regarding trade and commerce, and “will accept and handle any and all cargoes that are safe, legal and otherwise meet Port of Olympia marine terminal tariff standards as well as permit standards.”

The board’s resolution was a public response to the relationship between the port and Olympia City Council, which passed a resolution in 2014 opposing the shipment of fracking materials, and to Police Chief Ronnie Roberts’ remarks last month about arresting protesters who had blocked train tracks.

Commissioner Joe Downing said that while he is concerned about the environmental impact of fracking, the port cannot interfere with interstate cargo.

“The public expects us to run this port efficiently,” said Downing, who voted for the resolution Monday, along with Commissioner Bill McGregor.

Commissioner E.J. Zita voted against the resolution. She maintains that fracking-related cargo is unsafe for people and the environment. The ceramic-coated sands or “proppants” are used to extract underground oil in regions such as North Dakota through a controversial process called hydraulic fracturing.

Zita said the port earned about $15,000 from last month’s train shipment — the third since 2015 — that protesters had been blocked for a week. She said Monday’s resolution will “shut doors,” and she urged fellow commissioners to re-evaluate the port’s cargo criteria.

“It’s a continuation of a conversation that we didn’t get a chance to finish,” she said.

However, the public is ready to fight. At Monday night’s board meeting, Olympia resident Susan McRae presented a petition with about 800 signatures calling on the port to stop shipping fracking materials. McRae was among more than a dozen people to criticize the commissioners Monday for maintaining the port’s small but symbolic connection to fossil fuels and climate change.

That stance also is reflected in the 2014 resolution by the Olympia City Council that asked the port to stop shipping fracking materials.

At Monday’s board meeting, Olympia resident T.J. Johnson said the port owes it to taxpayers to identify acceptable cargo in the community — and to recognize the water contamination associated with fracking in other parts of the country.

“Clearly, you don’t understand the local environment. Clearly these fracking cargoes are not responsible environmental stewardship,” Johnson said. “Let’s think about the safety of these cargoes.”