Olympia police are urging people to avoid the area of Seventh and Jefferson in downtown Olympia — where anti-fracking protesters set up a blockade of the railroad tracks — because of police activity and clean up work, the department tweeted shortly after 5 a.m.
Union Pacific Railroad police were confronted by 20-30 masked protestors as they made contact with the rail protest blockade, Olympia police said in a follow-up tweet, and other law enforcement agencies were deployed. Bicycle officers were among those at the scene.
Bomb K9s were brought in to sweep the encampments near the railroad tracks. Then BNSF railroad and public works began what police said would be a lengthy clean up of the tracks about 6:45 a.m. Police said drivers should expect traffic delays for at least a couple of hours.
Police had set up a perimeter, closing the roads at Seventh and Adams as well as Fifth at Franklin and Adams.
The Olympian has a photographer and reporter at the scene, and this story will be updated.
The blockade began Nov. 17, a year after a similar encampment was set up on the tracks to protest the Port of Olympia’s handling of ceramic proppants, or fracking sand, which is used in the oil and natural gas extraction process. When police broke up last year’s encampment after a week to let a train carrying fracking sand pass through, a dozen people were arrested.
With this protest, the president of a local railroad company affected by the blockade had sent a letter Nov. 22 to the city of Olympia urging that police take action against the protesters.
City Manager Steve Hall responded that he hoped the port and railroad officials would resolve the issue. “This feels like a repeat of last year, and nobody wants to go through what happened last year,” Hall said.
But Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby said the community needed to prepare for the possibility that it wouldn’t end peacefully. “There is reason to suspect that the blockade protesters are neither interested in negotiating nor in an amicable resolution that would result in removing the blockade without force,” she said at the Nov. 21 Olympia City Council meeting.
Port commissioners invited protesters and representatives from the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office to address them Monday night, hoping to start a dialogue that might lead to a peaceful resolution of the blockade. They had tentatively scheduled a commission work session for today to continue the discussion.