Anti-fracking blockade of Olympia railroad tracks cleared
Anti-fracking protesters faced off with dozens of police in tactical gear during a predawn raid Wednesday at an encampment blocking railroad tracks in downtown Olympia.
Police blocked streets in the area of Seventh Avenue and Jefferson Street where protesters had set up a blockade on Nov. 17 to oppose the Port of Olympia’s shipping of ceramic proppants, or fracking sand, which is used in the oil and natural gas extraction process.
The raid began shortly after 5 a.m. Police issued verbal warnings before entering the camp, which Olympia police Lt. Sam Costello said was empty when officers moved in.
Later, police dogs were brought in to search for explosives in the area near the railroad tracks.
About 20 to 30 protesters, many covering their faces, sang songs and mocked police as public works crews began clearing the camp. When protesters tried to approach the camp, police pushed them back.
Olympia police Lt. Sam Costello said there were no arrests made and no injuries reported.
This comes a year after a similar protest ended in another predawn raid and 12 arrests.
With this year’s 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 had 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 met with protesters and representatives from the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office 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 Wednesday to continue the discussion.