A year after anti-fracking encampment, protesters return to block tracks in Olympia

An anti-fracking group blocks the railroad tracks from the Port of Olympia in downtown Olympia on Saturday.
An anti-fracking group blocks the railroad tracks from the Port of Olympia in downtown Olympia on Saturday. toverman@theolympian.com

One year after an anti-fracking group set up an encampment to block trains leaving the Port of Olympia, protesters have again settled into a makeshift camp on downtown railroad tracks.

Three of the protesters, who declined to give their names, said the group set up the camp at Seventh Avenue Southeast and Jefferson Street Southeast on Friday afternoon to block a shipment of ceramic proppants, or fracking sand, which they said was at the port and scheduled to leave Friday.

However, a spokesman for Olympia & Belmore Railroad, which connects the Port of Olympia to other train tracks, said Saturday no fracking sand was scheduled to leave the port.

The camp, constructed out of tents, tarps and wood pallets, includes signs that read “NO FRACKING SAND THROUGH OUR PORT” and “END FRACKING NOW.” The protesters said they have been tracking shipment schedules for more than a year and returned this weekend partly to mark the anniversary of last year’s protest.

They said they have no plans to leave soon.

“We’re not disrupting anything in the community, we’re disrupting the Port (of Olympia),” one protester said Saturday.

Olympia police Lt. Sam Costello said Saturday morning the Olympia Police Department was aware of the camp but had no immediate plans to break it up, adding any action “won’t be rushed or less than very well considered.”

A spokesman for Union Pacific, which owns tracks in the area, said Union Pacific’s police department was monitoring the situation with Olympia police but also had no immediate plans to break it up.

“Our No. 1 concern and priority is the safety of everybody, and they’re engaging in some extremely unsafe behavior,” railroad spokesman Justin E. Jacobs said.

Last year, 12 people were arrested when police in riot gear cleared the camp after a week. Officers from the Olympia Police Department, Washington State Patrol, Thurston County Sheriff's Office and Union Pacific Railroad’s police were all at the scene.

Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts later urged port leaders to stop accepting fracking-related cargo, saying the incident undermined the public’s trust in law enforcement. Longshoremen at the port, meanwhile, urged the Olympia City Council to take action to prevent future protests from blocking railroad tracks.

Abby Spegman: 360-704-6869, @AbbySpegman