Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Olympia Port Budget Proposes Raising Taxes

Above: The port meeting room was packed for a community conversation held by Port Commissioner E.J. Zita on Tuesday afternoon. Citing the Washington Open Public Meetings Act, Zita refused to attend a port executive session scheduled for 12:15 p.m. about a log loader contract. Commissioner Joe Downing said the executive session would be rescheduled.

Zita Refuses to Attend Port Executive Session on Log Loader Contract

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

The Port of Olympia has a lot on its plate: controversial cargo, a direct action rail blockade that continues in downtown Olympia, a 2018 budget that proposes to raise taxes to the highest extent possible without a public vote, and transparency issues over missing and edited video of public meetings.

To discuss any or all of those issues, Port Commissioner E.J. Zita held a public “commissioner chat” session at port offices Tuesday afternoon, just 45 minutes before she was scheduled to participate in an executive session with fellow port commissioners Bill McGregor and Joe Downing.

She said the turnout was the largest crowd for one of her commissioner chats that she’s ever seen.

In front of about 35 members of the public, including several longshore workers, Commissioner Zita did not attend the executive session, and explained why she believed doing so would be in violation of the Washington Open Public Meetings Act.

The hot button issue of the day was about the port’s proposed purchase of two front end log loaders for $3 million and the legality of the contract to purchase them. It was also the purpose for the executive session. 

A contract for the log loaders signed in June by the port’s executive director, Ed Galligan, appears to have exceeded his delegated authority. The executive director is authorized to sign agreements for up to $300,000 in one year without a vote of the commissioners but unbeknownst to commissioners, the contract was a one year lease to own commitment totaling $720,000. 

Zita said the commissioners were told the lease would be for $60,000 a month starting in November. The log loaders cost $1.8 million to purchase, but the financing arrangement balloons the price to $3 million over a period of 20 years.

A June email to the commissioners from Galligan states, The rental agreement gives the Marine Terminal Director, Longshore labor and the Port's maintenance crew time to properly test the equipment without an obligation to purchase. The agreement involves the trade-in of the two existing log loaders.

“....The port commission needs to figure out what to do about this and staff suggested the executive session,” she explained to the group.

The Executive Session That Didn't Happen

The executive session was publicly noticed to discuss potential litigation and was expected to last 45 minutes, with no actions or decisions to be made.

Executive sessions are not open to the public and limited to pending lawsuits, personnel actions and setting minimum prices for real estate. All three port commissioners must be present.

At 12:15 p.m., conversations with just a couple flare-ups around the issue were well underway when Commissioner Downing arrived in the back of the room and informed Zita, who was in the front of the room, that it was time to go into executive session.

Zita informed him that she was not going to do so.

“Yea, I can see you have a great meeting going on,” he said, with more than just a touch of sarcasm in his voice. He started to leave.

Heads swiveled back and forth between the two as Zita asked Downing not to leave until she had her say, stating that she has formally noticed commissioners and staff of the inappropriateness of holding a private meeting. 

She requested that the meeting be held in public.

“Then it wouldn’t be an executive session,” Downing said, adding that the executive session would be rescheduled. He left the room.  

Zita continued the meeting explaining that she was not required to go into executive session. Her interpretation of the law was that if she had attended the executive session, it would be illegal, quoting RCW 42.30.110, which prevents commissioners from discussing the matter in executive session when it has already been brought up in the public.  

The need to hire outside counsel may be necessary since port counsel is present in the meetings.

If there were adverse legal or financial consequences to the Port, those consequences would result from Galligan’s lease authorization in excess of his delegated authority, not from public discussion about it, she said.

While Zita did not question the need for the log loaders, she questioned the manner for their purchase.

“We do not have the funds for the log loaders. We have yet to pass a budget and allocate funds,” she said. Zita says the budget is tight and the commissioners are about to raise taxes as high as legally allowable without public approval.

Several community members questioned why the port hasn’t budgeted in advance for machinery needed to do basic business and suggested raising the rates to the three primary marine terminal tenants so the higher rates could pay for the equipment.

“I think it’s an option worth exploring,” said Zita.

Speaking of a backlog of deferred maintenance, Zita said the marina office has mold in one of the offices making it unuseable. The 2018 budget also is proposing to cut janitorial services and repaving projects.

“The marine terminal needs at least half a million dollars a year to repave port property due to wear and tear. It’s currently budgeted at $450,000 and that amount is proposed to be cut to $300,000….We shouldn’t have to do that. We’re already behind on deferred maintenance and trying to meet our financial goals….We’re not meeting that goal,” she said.

Log Loader Use

Logs from Washington State are exported to Japan, China and South Korea. According to the port, it takes about 1,200 truckloads of logs to fill one vessel arriving in Budd Inlet. 

The front end log loaders are used by three primary marine terminal tenants: Weyerhaeuser, Holbrook, and Pacific Lumber and Shipping.

In an email to Little HollywoodGalligan said that all the port's loaders are “governmental property,” and used for a broad range of cargo handling, operated by the longshore union ILWU, Local 47, and billed at an hourly rate per the port's tariff.  

He said the loaders were used for the movement of corn and gold ore that the port handled earlier this year. 
Longshore workers present at Zita’s meeting said they could use better equipment and ships can be loaded quicker and more safely. Zita questioned whether or not the economics of better productivity with the new log loaders is beneficial for the longshore workers

Chris Swearingen, a longshore worker, said it takes Olympia longshore workers five days to load a ship, compared to seven to ten days in Aberdeen and eight days in Tacoma. 

We’re a good port,” she said.

“You’re already highly productive,” Zita interjected.

“….When a machine breaks down it takes us six days sometimes…we’re not losing hours or pay when we get good equipment and good machines. We’re going to keep to that five days. It’s about safety. We want safe equipment. We’ve been trying to get new log loaders for four years. I’ve been trained on a log loader. It scares me. They’re big machines, they’re breaking down....It’s like a car and it starts getting miles on it. You don’t say, 'I can’t afford it' when the tires are on treads - you go for the safety….The machines are wearing out. We need to get them taken care of....The company is getting more hours when the machines break down….” said Swearingen.

The port commission is set to vote on its 2018 budget on November 27, 5:30 p.m. at 626 Columbia St. NW, Suite 1-B, Olympia.

Above: Robert Rose of the longshore union ILWU, Local 47 and other longshore workers attended Commissioner Zita's community chat on Tuesday afternoon. Rose complained that the meeting wasn't posted on the port's website and accused Zita of illegal use of port property for campaigning. Zita said port staff did not have time to post a notice of the meeting on its website and trusts that will happen in the future.

“If you want to talk about transparency, a lot is being dropped by the port,” responded audience member Robert Jeffers, referring to recent videotapes of public meetings that have not been recorded or have been edited. Zita said she knows staff is working on solving those problems as well.

Little Hollywood writes extensively about Port of Olympia issues. For more information and photos, go to and type key words into the search engine. 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Port of Olympia Woes: Proppants, Logs and Videotape

Above: Log exports are the primary line of business at the Port of Olympia marine terminal, as seen here from Rotary Park on Sunday afternoon. The Washington Public Ports Association says the log export boom was over as of 2014, with no future growth in sight. A 2018 Port budget proposal includes $3 million to purchase two new log loaders.

-Rail Blockade Continues
-2018 Port Budget Vote Set for November 27
-Port Staff Describes Missing Public Meeting Videos a “glitch”

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

There is still no clear mandate for the Port of Olympia’s marine terminal operation located in downtown Olympia, just days after an election in which a progressive candidate for port commissioner apparently lost by a few hundred votes.  

Despite significant public outcry, port commissioners and staff appear entrenched in business as usual, seeking out contracts that cater to the fossil fuel industry, and continuing the export of raw logs to Asia well into the foreseeable future.

By doing so, they ensure continued controversy, protests and lawsuits well into 2018.

Above: Activists continued a railroad track blockade near Seventh and Jefferson Street in downtown Olympia this weekend. The blockade began on Friday.

Ceramic Proppant Rail Blockade

It was a quiet weekend for activists who began a railroad track blockade on Friday near Seventh and Jefferson Street in downtown Olympia. The blockade continues.

Their goal is to prevent another possible trainload of ceramic proppants from leaving the Port of Olympia. The ceramic proppants are used in the process of hydraulic fracking for gas and oil extraction in North Dakota.

The process of hydraulic fracking is messy and degrades the environment, contaminates groundwater and causes earthquakes. Each time a well is fracked it uses two to eight million gallons of fresh water.

The activists, collectively known as Olympia Stand, have used their time without law enforcement intervention this weekend to fortify barriers on and around the tracks.

Last year’s eight day rail blockade may have been the longest, continuously occupied direct action disruption of a fossil fuel industry shipment in state history.

Above: Activists took the opportunity to project a message on a train car, This Train Shall Not Pass! for Port of Olympia officials on Saturday night. The train car is parked at the Port of Olympia and is one of several cars allegedly containing ceramic proppants.

2018 Budget Includes New Log Loaders

Keen eyed port activists are also filing citizen complaints about other issues as well, such as the Port’s upcoming 2018 budget, a questionable expenditure for new log loaders and a failure to videotape public meetings.

The 2018 Port of Olympia budget proposal will be explained by port executive director Ed Galligan at a special commission work session on November 21, from 1:00 – 3:30 p.m. at port offices, 626 Columbia Street NW, Suite B in Olympia. He is scheduled to speak for two hours.

The budget includes the purchase of two new log loaders. The loaders cost $1.8 million if they are bought outright, but $3 million with financing over 20 years. 

Of further concern to port watchers is that Galligan signed a legally binding lease agreement in June for the log loaders that cumulatively exceeds the amount he is authorized to sign for, $300,000, without a vote of the commissioners. 

Helen Wheatley of Olympia spends a considerable amount of time researching the port’s budget expenditures. 

She thinks Weyerhaeuser should pay for the log loaders or, if that's not possible, the commissioners should delay their decision and continue to lease them instead of purchasing them. Since this is a “lease to buy” arrangement with delayed penalties, it would cost very little to postpone this purchase even for a year. 

A delay could be used to gather better information and financing options. The current plan of ten years of low payments and ten years of high payments contributes to the additional $1.2 million over the named price,” she said in recent public testimony in front of the commissioners.

The long-term viability of the log export market is also questionable. The Washington Public Port Association says that demand for log exports will remain flat or even possibly decline in the foreseeable future.

“In March, Weyerhaeuser said it is ready to bring its extensive Southeastern timber holdings into production. Meanwhile, Washington’s timber looks increasingly like toothpicks. Who do the commissioners expect to pay for this? The taxpayers. They claim that it will somehow lead to even more log exports, and that is good for us all, but Japan, for example, is growing its own trees now….

“Port commissioners never seem to think strategically about the future, or think about where our own trees are in these global cycles of timber extraction. They pretend that ‘if you build it, they will come,’ and instead of expecting the timber exporting business to pay for itself, they expect Thurston County taxpayers to pay for it with promises that miracles will happen,” says Wheatley.

Commissioner E.J. Zita is looking for alternatives to Galligan’s budget, as Galligan has not yet provided any other options.

The commissioners are set to vote on the final 2018 Port budget on November 27.

Missing, Edited Videotape

And if you wanted to binge watch Port of Olympia meetings and catch up on all the drama, there's a problem:

Since February 2016, the Port has recorded its own meetings, taking the contract away from the well-respected services of Thurston Community Media who contracts with the cities of Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater and Thurston County to cover official meetings. The results have been dismal.

For well over a month, port staff has only videotaped their meetings for a couple of hours. Some port meetings last over four hours. And, the port is also apparently editing its own meeting video through an outside vendor. From the beginning, audio quality is also a persistent problem.

Bev Bassett of Olympia, another avid port watcher and budget cruncher, recently wrote a formal complaint to the port about inadequate and unsatisfactory citizen access to meeting videos from the Port's website. She says only the most recent 40 videos can be accessed.

“The October 20, 2017 Budget Study Session video will not stream beyond two hours, 22 minutes. Additionally, the video for the marathon five and a half hour commission meeting on October 23, 2017 is completely unavailable on video - only audio is available,” she wrote to port staff.

About heavy video editing, Bassett says that the first part of a video from a meeting where the public content section included a skit parodying Galligan and Commissioners Bill McGregor and Joe Downing, plus a six minute presentation about Port involvement in climate change by Bassett and another port activist remains unavailable. 

“It seems an unlikely coincidence that the Port's video system usually malfunctions when there are contentious meetings about difficult and controversial subjects.  These are only a few examples of these recurring problems with video access to records of public Port Commission meetings,” says Bassett.

Port staff responded to Bassett’s complaint on November 16 saying they regretted the “glitch,” saying the meeting minutes serve as the official public record for Commission meetings.

“Audio recordings are not required, but rather a value-added service we provide in order to facilitate public access to Port discussions and decisions.  In other words, we regret the glitch and will work to resolve it promptly, but can assure you a formal record is being taken,” said port communications manager Jennie Foglia-Jones.

At the same time the port took over its own video recording, Commissioner McGregor initiated and successfully changed the format of meeting minutes so that a brief synopsis of an individual's public comment was eliminated from the minutes. 

His stated reasoning, at the time, was that the public could go to the videos to hear what was said. 

Above: The rail blockade in downtown Olympia continued on Saturday and Sunday with little to no obvious law enforcement presence. Activists used their time to fortify their blockade.

Editor's Note, November 21, 2017: Previous versions of this article said that the 2018 Port of Olympia budget meeting was set to be voted upon on November 28. The date is actually Monday, November 27. Also, port executive director Ed Galligan signed the lease agreement for the log loaders in June, not July. Little Hollywood regrets the errors.

Little Hollywood has written extensively about Port of Olympia issues, including last year’s rail blockade, ceramic proppants, Rainbow Ceramics, sea level rise, and more. For more information and photos, go to and type key words into the search engine.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Olympia Activists Block Railroad, Port Shipment

Above:  Activists blockaded the railroad tracks in downtown Olympia on Friday at Seventh and Jefferson Streets, preventing a possible shipment of ceramic proppants from leaving the Port of Olympia. The blockade continued Friday evening. The protest is similar to last November’s blockade, which was ended by law enforcement after seven days.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Activists blockaded the railroad tracks in downtown Olympia on Friday night at Seventh and Jefferson Streets, preventing a possible shipment of ceramic proppants from leaving the Port of Olympia. The blockade continues.

A small child, about two years of age, was seen by Little Hollywood within the encampment walking about or in the arms of a woman throughout the early evening.

Collectively known as Olympia Stand, the group is demanding that the Port of Olympia cease all fossil fuel and military infrastructure shipments. They also demand “horizontal and democratic control of the Port of Olympia, including participation from area indigenous tribes,” according to a press release.

The blockade is in response to the Port of Olympia’s continued contract with Rainbow Ceramics. The Port of Olympia receives ceramic proppants and transfers the cargo to trains bound for North Dakota or Wyoming. Ceramic proppants are used in the process of hydraulic fracking for gas and oil extraction.

“Olympia Stand and other participants believe climate change can be stopped by engaging in non-violent direct action and civil disobedience against fossil fuel infrastructure, from train blockades and Port shutdowns to occupations of pipeline construction sites. Policy-makers can continue to take no action on this issue, and doom future generations to an uninhabitable planet, or they can follow the lead of people around the world fighting for a Just Transition away from fossil fuels and extractive economies. Meanwhile, we will continue to fight, whether they like it or not,” says the release.

Above: A graphic projected onto the side of a building near the rail blockade illustrates that the Port of Olympia is assisting the fracking industry in North Dakota. Say no to fracking sand in our port, says the graphic.

A small group assembled Friday afternoon at State and Jefferson and stopped the train engine, which was pulling several cars. The train retreated into the port yard and disconnected itself from the cars. The engine did not leave the yard.

Several Olympia police officers arrived with pepper ball guns, but did not discharge them. The police left but continued to patrol the area in vehicles.

The group then moved to Seventh and Jefferson and by 4:30 p.m., had quickly blockaded the tracks with box spring mattresses, tents, couches, wood pallets, large pieces of plywood, file cabinets, and debris.

Activists created a bonfire in a barrel at about 6:00 p.m. to keep warm.

City of Olympia manager Steve Hall arrived at the blockade Friday evening at 7:00 p.m. saying he was unaware of what was going on, as he had been in a city General Government meeting. He had received a text during the meeting, but had not looked at his phone.

Olympia Stand members and other bystanders spoke with Hall about their demands and asked him to convey their concerns to the Port officials. 

Seems like a repeat, right? Hall said, asking activists what the plan was for the night. 

Hall said that actions against the blockade would up to the railroad police, explaining that Olympia would get involved, like last year, if requested through a mutual aid pact the city has with other law enforcement jurisdictions. 

According to Hall, the Olympia police department responded last year only after called upon by the Washington State Patrol and Thurston County.

I don't know what the railroad police will do, Hall said, adding that such protests were unproductive and always end badly. 

Hall's appearance sparked loud chants from the activists, driving him away from the blockade site.

Last November the same group successfully blockaded the tracks November 11 – 18, delaying a similar shipment for over a week. A multi-jurisdictional law enforcement action involving the railroad, Washington State Patrol, Thurston County Sheriff’s Department and Olympia Police Department ended the blockade in early morning hours with the use of pepper spray and rubber bullets, resulting in arrests and injuries.

The following week, Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts gave a tensely worded statement in front of Olympia city councilmembers denouncing the Port of Olympia's ceramic proppant shipments. 

In response, Olympia port executive director Ed Galligan addressed the council in December, and the meeting was disrupted by protesters.

In this year’s race for port commission, two out of three seats were at stake.

Port of Olympia commissioner E.J. Zita retained her seat by a wide margin over challenger Gigi McClure.

Incumbent Port Commissioner Bill McGregor has apparently retained his seat by a slim margin over challenger Bill Fishburn, who conceded the close race on Thursday. His win could have changed the direction of port policies.

In an April interview with Little Hollywood, Fishburn said, “Based on my research, it seems pretty obvious to me that the community is being ignored on specific cargos such as fracking proppants and military cargo. These seem to me to be cargo the community clearly does not want transported through their yards and neighborhoods but they are being ignored. I just have to ask myself, why is that?”

According to Friday’s Thurston County Auditor Office update, Fishburn lost the race by 807 votes.

Little Hollywood has written extensively about Port of Olympia issues, including last year’s rail blockade and its contract with Rainbow Ceramics. For more information and photos, go to and type key words into the search engine.

Above: The Port of Olympia has a contract with Rainbow Ceramics until July 14, 2019. For many, it can't come soon enough. Ceramic proppants in large bags sit exposed and under tarps at the Port of Olympia marine terminal yard on Friday night. The rail cars are used to transport the ceramic proppants to North Dakota and Wyoming for use in hydraulic fracking.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Thurston County Fire Destroys Historic Home, Habitat

Above: Looking north over 183rd Street in Rochester, a DC-10 drops red colored flame retardant to help stop the Scatter Creek area fire in south Thurston County on August 22. The historic Miller-Brewer House and barn were destroyed in the fire. Photo courtesy George Ormrod.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

The Scatter Creek area fire near Rochester in south Thurston County burned 485 total acres on August 22, prompting the temporary evacuation of about 100 residents. It also destroyed several homes.

In the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area, the historic Miller-Brewer homestead, built in 1860, and a barn were also destroyed. The homesite was listed on the National Historic Register.

Fire crews from several neighboring counties helped to control the blaze, as did the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, which is leading an investigation of the fire.

Rochester resident George Ormrod became aware of the Rochester – Grand Mound area fire when he heard a DC-10 fly low over his home near 183rd Street. He went out and saw the plane dropping red colored flame retardant.

Hopping on a scooter, he weaved around back roads until stopped by a road block near the Grand Mound cemetery where he spoke with an emergency management official. She informed him that the fire was four miles from his home and he did not need to evacuate the area.

A press release issued on Friday by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) says state wildlife managers are assessing the damage caused by the fire. The south side of the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area in Thurston County is closed until further notice.

Owned and managed by WDFW, 345 acres of the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area was burned, and provides a sanctuary for several threatened and endangered wildlife species, including Taylor's checkerspot and mardon skipper butterflies and the Mazama pocket gopher.

The wildlife area is a popular destination for hiking, birdwatching, dog training and upland bird hunting in the south Puget Sound area, said Brian Calkins, regional WDFW wildlife manager.

“This fire is truly a tragedy,” Calkins said. “We put our heart and soul into restoring this remaining piece of rare native prairie, and we know a lot of people are going to feel this loss as much as we do.”

Calkins said fire damage will likely affect some activities scheduled in the burned, southern unit of the wildlife area, including upland bird hunting this fall. However, the 435 acre section of the wildlife area on the north side of Scatter Creek was largely unscathed by the wildfire and remains open to the public.

The WDFW will immediately begin work to restore the burnt landscape south of Scatter Creek. Based on a preliminary estimate, that work will cost more than $1 million.

“We're invested in the future of this area, and we're already starting to plan recovery efforts to protect the prairie for use by animals and people,” Calkins said. “We will be putting a lot of effort into weed control and replanting.”

Scatter Creek is one of 33 state wildlife areas managed by WDFW to provide habitat for fish and wildlife as well as land for outdoor recreation.

Above: The historic Miller-Brewer House and a nearby barn were destroyed in the fire on August 22. Photo Courtesy Hans Littooy.

Miller-Brewer House Historic Site

Hans Littooy, of Olympia, offered Little Hollywood pictures he took on August 16 of the Miller-Brewer House, the oldest home in Thurston County at the Scatter Creek Prairie. 

“I often go to the Scatter Creek southern unit with my dog to enjoy the prairie elements, be it flora or landscape. Prairies are a very special landscape in our area and unfortunately misused,” said Littooy, a retired landscape architect.

A Greek Revival style house, the Miller-Brewer home was historically significant for its box frame construction, a method only used during early pioneer settlement in Washington from 1855 through 1875, and was one of the few examples left in the Pacific Northwest.

Historically, George and Marita Miller traveled north by wagon from Oregon to take a donation land claim on the banks of Scatter Creek in the late 1850s. The house, built by Miller, is set on open prairie land adjacent to Scatter Creek, and shaded by a grove of native oak trees. Miller was a farmer as well as a territorial representative.

The property was sold to Reece Brewer, an old friend of Miller’s who had moved to Grand Mound from Oregon with his wife in 1858. Brewer was an accomplished stockman, sold cream to creameries, and was a member of the Territorial Legislature in 1871. He was also the local postmaster, fulfilling his out of the house, a justice of the peace at Grand Mound, and an elected a Thurston County commissioner in 1888 and 1890. He lost three wives to pneumonia.

In the 1960s, one of Brewer’s children, Fred, sold the property to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (formerly the Department of Game) which used the Miller-Brewer House since the 1960s in a variety of capacities. 

It was nominated and placed on the National Historic Register in 1988.

Above: The historic Miller-Brewer barn was destroyed in the fire on August 22. Photo Courtesy Hans Littooy.

Littooy said he and his family came from the Netherlands to Iowa in 1968 and that the house and barn have always fascinated him.   

“I loved those buildings and at one time even dreamt of replicating the old home for myself. So much for the dream….It irritates me that we are so careless with the history of this country. This house could have been a museum about life in the 1870s. How much more of Thurston County history is in danger? How much is left?” Littooy said.

Above:  The barn on the property of the historic Miller-Brewer House was also destroyed in the fire. Photo Courtesy Hans Littooy.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Olympia Bridge Restoration Underway

Above: Workers have been restoring downtown Olympia’s Fourth Avenue bridge for about ten weeks. The bulk of the project involves cleaning and painting, however, some repairs are also being done. The project is being funded out of the City of Olympia's transportation general fund for $451,962.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

For the past ten weeks, thousands of commuters have watched a crew at work on the Fourth Avenue bridge in downtown Olympia.

Formally known as the Olympia-Yashiro Friendship Bridge, the bridge spans Budd Inlet, the southernmost portion of Puget Sound. 

A critical east-west transportation link for the city, the bridge symbolically connects the Olympia community in many other ways as well.

While the bulk of the project involves cleaning and painting, some crack repair is also being done to prevent future water intrusion. Water damage causing significant pockmarks and spalling of cement pieces has occurred in about 250 feet of the bridge.

A contract amount of $451,962 was given to Finishing Touch Masonry and Restoration Solutions, LLC, of Everett.

The project is considered a transportation project and is being funded out of the city’s transportation general fund.

“This project was not bid per our typical design-bid build process however it is a U.S. Communities project and these types of projects meet the competitive bidding requirements,” said Jeff Johnstone, project manager and senior engineer with the City of Olympia, when asked about the cost.   

The U.S. Communities Project is a partnership formed in 2009 among the U.S. Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

The city’s use of U.S. Communities was approved by city council in 2016.

Johnstone added that after the work is complete, the bridge will retain its shiny white appearance, and should only need to be pressure washed once a year.

“I never realized how grubby it had gotten until I saw side by side pictures,” said Johnstone.

Prior to construction of the bridge, Johnstone said that the city tested multiple different coating products.

“These products were applied to concrete panels and allowed to sit for the winter in order to determine how well they held up to our winter conditions and how easy they were to clean. Graffiti testing was also conducted on each coating. The coating being used was selected because it is a single step coating process and once the coating container is opened, it can be resealed and saved for later use, similar to a can of paint,” he said.

Above: The Olympia-Yashiro Friendship Bridge, better known as the Fourth Avenue bridge, spans Budd Inlet, the southernmost tip of Puget Sound.

Workers interviewed on Tuesday were disappointed that their completed work on the south side of the bridge has already been tagged with graffiti.

“It takes a couple minutes to tag, but takes a lot more time than that to clean it off,” said Rick Schindler, a restoration mason and project foreman with Finishing Touch Masonry.

Schindler, of Everett, has been busy with Ken Hester, of Shoreline, to brush, hand scrape, seal, vacuum, and pressure wash the bridge. He recently hired another employee to speed up the work and says he hopes to get the project done by the end of September.

Schindler explained that the westernmost 250 feet of the bridge between the roundabouts on Olympic Way has the most water intrusion damage because the concrete was poured onsite, which resulted in a very difficult finish.

Workers at the time realized their mistake, Schindler said, and used precast forms for the rest of the bridge.

“Those look a lot better,” he said.

“It’s been a tedious project to get right,” said Hester.

All workers are Pacific Northwest chapter members of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers.

Above: Ken Hester, of Shoreline, packs up his masonry supplies for the day on Tuesday.

A Brief Bridge History

The bridge was completed in 2003 to replace the previous bridge which was structurally damaged in the Nisqually based earthquake on February 28, 2001.

The earthquake speeded up a bridge replacement process that was already underway, as load limits had already been placed on the bridge.

Former City of Olympia Mayor Bob Jacobs was asked about his involvement in the planning for the new bridge in the late 1990s prior to the earthquake.

The previous bridge lasted as long as it did because it had been constructed with extra strength to carry trolley traffic. 

“It was generous of the council to include on the bronze plaques all of the names of council members who participated in the entire, long planning process. It’s a great looking bridge. Although the cost estimates had to be increased several times, our council made detailed decisions on the design of the bridge, including the number of lanes, width of sidewalks, and height of railings.

“Partway into the process, it was decided to expand the project to include the area to the west and call it the Olympia Gateway Project. The roundabouts were a big risk because such structures were rather new at the time and the slopes made them difficult to construct. All in all, it turned out very well,” said Jacobs.

Editor's Note, August 24: Little Hollywood deleted a previously published statement that the Fourth Avenue bridge never had trolley traffic.

Above: Olympians braved the rain to celebrate the grand reopening of the Fourth Avenue Bridge in December, 2003. The bridge serves as a critical east-west transportation link in Olympia. The Nisqually earthquake made the previous bridge unusable, causing over two years of inconvenience for commuters.