Update: Port meeting attracts strong opinions about second marine terminal warehouse

The meat of Monday’s Port of Olympia commission meeting may have been removed, but that didn’t deter several who still shared their opinions about the prospect of a second warehouse on the port’s marine terminal.

The port commission was set to vote on whether to award a bid for construction of that warehouse -- a warehouse that will be filled with ceramic proppants or fracking sand -- when the port decided Friday afternoon to postpone that decision, saying it wants more time for port staff and legal counsel to review citizen concerns about the project.

Those citizen concerns, wanting the warehouse and a related marine terminal project to be included within a single environmental review process, were delivered in a letter to the port on June 4.

Still, about 50 people -- either who didn’t get the message or who wanted to testify anyway -- showed up to Monday’s meeting at The Olympia Center. More than 30 people spoke during the public comment period, which lasted about two hours, including one woman who dressed up as Lady Liberty and two other women who sang a song together at the podium. Most spoke out against the need for a second warehouse, raising concerns about fracking’s impact on the environment or the larger problem of climate change.

Bourtai Hargrove of Olympia, one of Monday’s first speakers, warned the commission about sea-level rise. “It means goodbye Miami, goodbye southern Florida, goodbye Bangladesh, goodbye parts of Seattle and goodbye to all of downtown Olympia,” she said. “Yes, it means goodbye to the port and the farmers market.”

Zoltan Grossman, professor of geography at The Evergreen State College, also warned the commission not to tie the port’s financial well being to the boom-and-bust cycles of oil production in North Dakota. The port currently imports fracking sand and then ships it by rail to North Dakota.

“The Bakken oil boom is showing signs of an imminent bust,” he said.

But Debby Pattin of Olympia said that stopping shipments of fracking at the port won’t end fracking, it will only steer that business to another port, which means a loss of family-wage jobs and revenue at the port. Federal legislation is needed to end fracking, so she urged those in the audience to elect state and federal legislators who will vote for environmentally friendly legislation.

“I’m glad you all want to save the world, but don’t get rid of my job,” added Richard Korn, a longshore worker with Local 47 at the port. After the public comment portion of the meeting, Korn said he has been a longshore worker at the port since 2006 after entering his chosen profession in 1997. He weathered a slow period at the port, but now is working full-time, sometimes six days a week. His wage varies, he said, but he's making about $35 per hour. He makes enough that his wife doesn’t have to work and she can stay home with his four children, Korn said.

The port says it needs a second marine terminal warehouse because the existing warehouse is at capacity with fracking sand, steel coils and other cargo.

It wasn’t immediately clear when the port would vote on awarding the bid. The port’s legal counsel said it would take a week to 10 days to review citizen concerns. Commissioner Bill McGregor said he will be absent from the June 23 commission meeting, which means the vote could take place at the port’s first commission meeting in July.