Thursday, January 28, 2010

Design Review Board Recommends Denial of Triway Plan For Isthmus


Above: Deputy city attorney Darren Nienaber gave it his all at tonight's Design Review Board meeting to convince board members to provide more information for the benefit of the city's hearing examiner, who has not yet seen the case.

By Janine Gates
www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com

In yet another victory for opponents of Triway Enterprises’ plan to build a massive housing and mixed-use office building project on the isthmus in downtown Olympia, the city’s Design Review Board tonight passed a motion by 7 - 2, to recommend denial of the applicant’s plan for the project.

The denial of the plan went against a city staff recommendation to approve the project. Board members based their decision, in part, on the project's failure to meet city code criteria regarding the visual context of the streetscape and its lack of human scale.

The board picked up their conversation right where it left off on December 18, 2009, when it tabled a decision on the context plan. (See articles on December 11 and December 18, 2009 at www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com for more information.) Individual board members had not changed their minds nor did they offer new reasons or explanations for their positions.

The motion to deny the plan was offered by board member Jane Laclergue. Board chair Thomas Carver and board member Spencer Daniels were in the minority. Daniels felt that the denial would “second guess” the previous city council’s zoning decision.

Carver said that although he felt that the rezone was a clear “spot rezone,” he felt that the applicant met all the requirements. “I tend to think this (area) was rezoned for this specific proposal, for this specific developer, for this specific project,” said Carver. Board member Duane Edwards said, “It’s hard to deny it’s an attractive building…but what we’re arguing about is location. If this wasn’t the location, we wouldn’t be sitting here arguing about it.”

Deputy city attorney Darren Nienaber repeatedly tried to steer the board into being more specific in their reasons for the denial, to no avail. “If there are additional reasons to deny it, then the hearing examiner should know that….” Nienaber urged. Nienaber said that in the case of the 18th Avenue Estates case, the hearing examiner sent back the land use approval decision for more information.

Showing firm leadership, Board chair Thomas Carver reiterated to Nienaber, “Even though I don’t agree with the previous motion, I think our process is solid. If the hearing examiner wants more information, we’ll give it to him.”

Again Nienaber stated his case to provide more explanation for the plan denial.

“I think everyone’s made themselves clear…and we’ve gone farther than we usually do. I’m starting to feel like we’re doing the hearing examiner’s job now….” said Carver.

Neinaber finally backed off. “I’ve said the same thing three times now and it won’t help to say it a fourth. I’m not here to advocate one way or the other, I’m just making sure the hearing examiner will have all his facts,” Neinaber said, to chuckles from the audience.

“These are just recommendations - I think we’ve done our job,” said Carver.

The recommendations now go to the city’s hearing examiner for review. That should happen in the next couple months. Cari Hornbein, city senior planner, said a date has not been scheduled. Nienaber said it could be a multi-day hearing, due to the complexity of the issue.

For more information about the project, contact Cari Hornbein, Senior Planner at (360) 753-8048 or chornbein@ci.olympia.wa.us.


Above: During a meeting recess, Design Review Board members Duane Edwards, left, Katie Cox, standing, Thomas Muller, in striped shirt, and Spencer Daniels, right, appear more relaxed after their decision tonight.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Imagine Olympia: It's a Conversation About the Community (and oh yeah, the Comprehensive Plan)


Above: Imagine Olympia: Community members and city staff gathered tonight at Roosevelt Elementary School to discuss the city's Comprehensive Plan goals and objectives, and at the same time, build relationships.

by Janine Gates
www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com

The City of Olympia held the first of six community meetings tonight at Roosevelt Elementary School to educate and involve the community in the development of the city's update of its comprehensive plan. (For more information, see article dated November 15, 2009 at www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com.)

About 40 community members met in small groups to discuss several questions posed by city staff. City councilmember Stephen Buxbaum was present as well as several members of the city's Planning Commission. The evening's discussion was facilitated by local consultant Steve Byers.

Participants were asked to evaluate several comprehensive plan goals. For example, a chapter of the comprehensive plan is titled Sustainable Economy. The plan says this goal is to maintain the strength of downtown as the economic center of the community.

City staff asked participants three questions: Do you think this goal is important? What do you think is getting in the way of better implementation? How can we as a community work together to realize this goal?

The meeting drew several community members from around the city who are not usually involved in city planning conversations.

Larry Siminski, a certified financial planner who lives on the Eastside, has lived in Olympia since 1979. He participated in one of the small groups and said he was interested in promoting downtown's economic growth and development.

"We have to accept the fact that we have an obligation to be a state capital. We have to play the role. We want to be a small town, but we have to play the game even if it means more large buildings." Siminski offered the idea of bringing a light rail line directly to the area around the bluff under the state capitol building to bring workers directly onto the capitol campus without adding additional parking. "We could use the existing rail lines that were in place in the 1920's when the capitol was built...and it wouldn't affect views."

Jacqueline Arlow, a state worker who lives in the South Capitol neighborhood, said she is interested in historic preservation. "In Tumwater, one thing that troubles me a lot is the condition of the Old Brewery. It should be preserved. It's a treasure. It would be a good thing for tourists - the tile and brickwork is astounding. It could be converted into a little restaurant and shops. In Olympia, the State Capitol Museum is also important to fund and maintain. It's important to not tear down old buildings downtown."

In terms of what is getting in the way of succeeding in the goal of economic development downtown, Siminski cited his difficulties in the permitting process to build a two story office building for his business. "The development regulations, design review process and fees all add up to costs. Pretty soon you're saying you want to go to Lacey to build." Siminski eventually succeeded in building his office in Olympia.

Victor Short, 21, a student at South Puget Sound Community College who lives by the Thurston County Courthouse, said he came to the meeting because it was an assignment for his Environmental Science class.

In an interview midway through the evening's discussion, Short said, "I feel like we're groping in the dark, trying to get a grip on what we need to do but people are pulling in different directions. We're not unified - we're tripping over ourselves....but, it's really simple to get involved. I didn't realize that before."


Above: Vicki Faust, middle in red shirt, participates in a small group discussion. Faust, 27, works for Community Youth Services as an AmeriCorp coordinator. She is also a Masters in Public Administration student at The Evergreen State College.

Byers asked the group at the end of evening, "What is the community's role in moving forward?" Comments came forth.

"We need to walk the talk," said Wendy Sternshein, who lives in the Northeast neighborhood. "We need to be prepared to be involved and offer our resources in a variety of ways...."

"There is a lot of energy in the room but maybe it would be nice to bring it out to the wide community as an ongoing thing without the city staff - because that's expensive. We could get to know more people that way," said Pat Holm.

Bob Jacobs, former mayor of Olympia, said that "moving forward" to him meant including all 45,000 Olympians - "it means volunteering and caring for our families and neighborhoods."

Enid Layes said, "I think the community's role is to read the comprehensive plan. We need to know what's in it now. We need to encourage our neighbors and friends to read it."

Layes later expressed skepticism about the process and direction of the conversation. "There's something bugging me about tonight. This is an update (of the comprehensive plan) but we really don't know the parameters of the review - we're not rewriting it - I have a problem walking into the universe. There's got to be more focus...."

Peter Guttchen, president of the Northeast Neighborhood Association and chair of the Olympia Coalition of Neighborhood Association presidents offered clarity on why he came to tonight's meeting.

"I think what we're doing tonight is community building. I want a stronger, healthier, connected, more viable place to live. We're hanging our hat on the need to update the comprehensive plan...but there are people who don't even know we have a comprehensive plan. I'm concerned that we're setting too high of expectations for us. We can do this in different ways - it doesn't need to be a city-led process. I want it (the comprehensive plan) to reflect our values. The question is, why aren't we doing that? The challenge is, how do we come together as a community? How do we build on this and support this conversation?"

Lynn Scoggins, who lives by Olympia High School, said we can build community by engaging civic involvement on all levels. "One way to do it is to point out what we can't do and let a community organization do it. Then they have ownership in it and can make it happen."

Jacqueline Arlow felt good about the evening's discussions. "Everyone was really participating. It's OK to have a sampling of the community in small groups. It's like taking a poll. We'd have a heck of a time finding parking for 45,000 people."

Asked about accessibility to the currently cumbersome 300 page document, Keith Stahley, director of Olympia community development and planning, said the plan is available to read at the city's community development and planning office and in the reference section of the Olympia Timberland Library.

Gita Moulton, however, said she went to the downtown library two weeks ago to read it and it was not there. She was told there was a copy at the Lacey library. There are also no copies available to check out for those who do not have computer access or the time to sit at the library to read the document. The document is available online at the city's website.


Above: Gita Moulton, left, and Barb Scavezze chat after the Imagine Olympia meeting at Roosevelt Elementary School tonight.

This is just the first of several Imagine Olympia gatherings planned by the city. "We have 23 months to go, so hang in there with us," said Stahley.

Future Imagine Olympia community meetings are planned as follows:

February 4, 6:30pm, Hansen Elementary, 1919 Road Sixty-Five NW
February 11, 6:30pm, The Knox Building, 1113 Legion Way SE
February 25, 6:30pm, Lincoln Elementary, 213 21st Ave SE
March 3, 6:30pm, LP Brown Elementary, 2000 26th Ave NW
March 11, 7:00pm, McKenny Elementary, 3250 Morse Merryman Road SE

For more information, go to the city website at www.ci.olympia.wa.us/imagine-olympia or call the City of Olympia Community Development and Planning Department at (360) 753-8314.


Above: Amy Tousley, vice-chair of the Olympia Planning Commission, speaks with former Olympia mayor Bob Jacobs after the meeting tonight.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Senior Center Celebrates Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday


Above: In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday today, Diana Redecker reads an original poem at the Senior Center downtown.

Tears rolled after Diana Redecker read her original poem, "Sally and Tom," at the Senior Center today, written in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s actual birthday is today, and was celebrated by several senior center groups, including the Forever Young Chorus, the Olympia Poetry Club, and the Reading Group.

Seniors gathered to share original poetry, personal stories and rememberances of the civil rights leader and movement, and hear excerpts read from Martin Luther King Jr.'s speeches and writings.

Redecker, who has participated with the Poetry Club for about a year and a half, also leads a senior discussion group about the history of the Pacific Northwest on Fridays. After educating those gathered about the relationship between Hemings and Jefferson, she moved several people to tears with the reading of her poem.

Her poem was written in the voice of Sally Hemings, an African-American slave. She was a half-sister to President Thomas Jefferson's wife Martha, and a partner to Jefferson for 38 years, having several children by him.

Sally and Tom

Tom, you loved Martha, my sister,
And now secretly you love me.
But when will our babies be free, Tom,
When will our babies be free?

Answer me, Tom, just answer.
Our babies are slaves, like me.
You wrote of freedom for all, Tom,
But when will our babies be free?

I've raised her children and mine, Tom,
But we can't call them one family.
Listen to me, Tom, I'm begging,
When can our babies be free?

Thirty-eight years we've lain together,
And your name you can't give to me.
And when we are laid in our graves, Tom,
Will you still lie beside me?

I have one question for you, Tom,
Can you invent something for me?
A long telescope to see a faraway time
When all babies will be free.

(copyright) Diana Redecker
January, 2010

In honor of Sally Hemings and Martin Luther King, Jr.


Sara Rucker Theissen, Senior Services for South Sound activity coordinator, said later, "When we collaborate and celebrate special events, we go deep. It's heartfelt."


Above: Senior Services for South Sound is located in downtown Olympia at 222 Columbia St. NW. Senior Services offers a wide range of services and resources, entertainment, clubs, classes, caregiving and home health care assistance, meals and more. Contact them at 586-7408 or www.southsoundseniors.org.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Isthmus Interim Rezone Ordinance Passes


Above: City Council members chat after the city council meeting Tuesday night.

by Janine Gates
www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com

An ordinance to adopt an interim rezone for the isthmus area downtown passed unanimously tonight by the Olympia City Council. A public hearing for the interim rezone will be held Tuesday, February 23, with the location to be announced. The hearing will likely be held at the Olympia Center or the Washington Center for the Performing Arts.

Councilmember Stephen Buxbaum made the motion to suspend the usual rules and practices so the draft ordinance could be passed on first and final reading. "I respectfully encourage that we move quickly and put this behind us as soon as possible before the council retreat." Hyer seconded the motion with some concerns about setting aside usual rules. "(But) I don't see any harm doing this...because we've seen this before."

Discussion and clarifications ensued with Councilmember Rhenda Strub asking city attorney Tom Morrill how may votes it takes to suspend the rules. "Five," was his reply. Strub acknowledged that she felt like she was in the hot seat.

Councilmember Craig Ottavelli also expressed concern with the motion, saying that he respects the "value of the process," to have further readings. "It's about what we don't know - something we can improve upon or change and find something we missed...."

Mayor Doug Mah offered an amendment to Buxbaum's motion which, after considerable discussion, did not pass. "This is one of those times I wish I had a written agenda. There are people who think we cook this stuff up ahead of time but I'm hearing this for the first time," said Strub. Councilmember Roe agreed, saying, "This is unknown territory...."

Mah's intent was, essentially, a text amendment "to address the need for urban housing and the height on the isthmus to retain the urban waterfront zone that was already in place and eliminate the height bonus," may have speeded up the process, according to city attorney Tom Morrill, but confused councilmembers. Some councilmembers may have also been concerned that it would contradict what had been agreed upon at last week's city council meeting.


Above: Community members chat after the city council meeting Tuesday night. Paul and Sue Mellon also attended, which was their first city council meeting since recently moving from Ferndale, California.

What's Your True NorthPoint?


Monday night's port commission meeting was newly-elected Jeff Davis' first as a commissioner. Davis, right, replaces retiring commissioner Paul Telford and was elected secretary. Current president Bill McGregor, middle, could not get a second to continue in his role as president. After Commissioner George Barner expressed interest in the position, Davis seconded the motion to elect Barner president. The motion passed.

by Janine Gates
www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com

Offering creative energy and independent research, several community members presented fresh comments and visions regarding the redevelopment of the NorthPoint area to Port of Olympia commissioners at the port's first meeting of the year last night.

A petition signed by community members which asks for a halt to the current, exclusive redevelopment plan proposed by MJR Development was also presented to commissioners by community member Sue Ingman. (See article in 2009 at www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com for more information about MJR Development).


Above: Sue Ingham testifies and presents petitions to the port commission last night, urging a halt to the redevelopment plan proposed by MJR Development.

Monica Hoover testified that she and others have met with several port and Ecology staff, and it would appear to her that port staff are unaware of some of the Washington State Ecology's expectations and requirements for the NorthPoint clean-up. She is also concerned about inconsistencies between what Ecology says and what port staff say about the site.


Above: The view of Budd Inlet today from Northpoint's Cascade Pole site, looking north. Priest Point Park is in the distance on the right.

Agnieska Kisza, a local architect, gave a PowerPoint presentation to the commission and audience members about her vision for the NorthPoint area.

"Native Americans once considered this land sacred because of its beauty. This is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Let's provide world quality design, starting with creating a master plan," Kisza explained. She said the main elements of the master plan have to include an uninterrupted boulevard along the water and an unobstructed water and mountain view.

Her presentation includes pictures of what she labeled current master planning mistakes, such as HearthFire restaurant's extensive Dumpster collection. She noted their location and appearance, which fully obstructs public views across Budd Inlet, looking west.


Above: The view corridors in Olympia are getting narrower and narrower. These Dumpsters by HearthFire Restaurant obstruct public waterfront views.

Kisza suggested that the port could organize an international architectural competition or other process to create a quality NorthPoint redevelopment design.

"The port of Olympia will be remembered for this project. This is an opportunity for us to act for the greater good rather than for the benefit of a few. Please show leadership and courage. Stop this development, as proposed, because it is lacking vision...," Kisza concluded.

Superimposed over MJR Development's vision for Northpoint - a proposed hotel and restaurant - architect Mariusz Kowalewski gave a detailed presentation to illustrate his own design ideas, which included a large park and glass pagoda.


Above: A vision design presented by local architect Mariusz Kowalewski.

Krag Unsoeld, who has also met with port staff, testified that the project has been rushed and that any development of tall buildings such as what is being proposed will "immediately devalue the land behind it," because it will steal the waterfront views.

Unsoeld also questioned the numbers used in a recent article in The Olympian that describes the port's finances, saying the numbers did not tell the whole story. Calling it a "puff piece," Unsoeld asked, "What does this mean? It means we don't know what is going on and we don't know how our taxpayer money is being used and how much is being lost."

The commissioners responded to the citizen presentations. Barner said he would like a work session to examine everything that has been presented. "It's fascinating to hear and to understand (that the public has) obviously strong feelings about the direction the port is going in. I tend to think we've acted abruptly into the development phase. I've expressed concern about this...." Last year, Barner voted against moving ahead with the sole remaining proposal submitted by MJR Development.

"We now have an opportunity to pull our bacon out of the fire with a process to involve the community and find consensus with the community. Let's put things on hold...." Barner pleaded to the other commissioners.

Davis, in his first policy comments as commissioner, responded that he appreciated everyone coming, saying, "We need more of this....I'm open to suggestions as far as the direction here," but alluded to his being "the new kid on the block," and did not offer assistance or further comment to Barner's suggestion to stop or slow down the redevelopment process.

"His comments were kind of wimpy," said one community member later, about Davis' lackluster remarks on the issue.

During a conversation in December 2009 with members of the Carnegie group, however, Davis offered very clear opinions about the NorthPoint redevelopment process, stating that he did not feel that the process was fully vetted.

"Public land is sacred and shouldn't be sold for private development. This (area) is the jewel of the South Sound....In January, I personally have to find a way to halt or stall this process...there's a lot of public backing. Let's open it up again," Davis said in that conversation.

McGregor offered an overview of the public process thus far and gave Monica Hoover a prepared letter in response to her previous request for more information.

"This is a two piece project...we have a cleanup project site. My understanding is that there is funding in Ecology's account to do this until 2011. If we don't use it, it reverts back to the state. There's a lot of investment in there, and insurance money, claims the port has filed and won...." McGregor continued to describe the "slurry wall" and asphalt methods to contain and "cap" contaminants at Northpoint.

Unsoeld was allowed to interject as a point of clarification that asphalt is not the only method of capping contamination, that grass is also a possibility. Later, Hoover agreed with Unsoeld. "The board is choosing asphalt, and Ecology does not mandate it," Hoover said, speaking of the Port's efforts to clean up the area known as Cascade Pole.

McGregor assured audience members that there is no development agreement yet, and the process is far from over. "We are giving them (MJR Development) time to develop it. They will bring it back to the public. We are going to have more meetings. We may (decide to) walk away after a year or so if it's not what we want after a public process. This may take one year, or two years."

Mark Lahaie, MJR Development partner, sat in the audience and heard the citizen concerns and suggestions. Barner suggested that community members meet with Lahaie to discuss their concerns with him personally.

"I'm hopeful we can find some common ground here...we have some tremendous resources and citizens who have experience...we still have a window of opportunity to make changes," said Barner.

The next Port of Olympia meeting is Monday, January 25, at 5:30 p.m. held at the LOTT Board Room, 111 Market St. NE. For more information, contact the Port at 528-8000 or go to www.portolympia.com.

To contact Mark Lahaie at MJR Development, call (425) 822-4466 or email him at mark@mjrdevelopment.com.


Above: Krag Unsoeld, left, Agnieska Kisza, Mariusz Kowaleswski and Monica Hoover talk in the hallway after the port meeting last night.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Newly Elected Olympia City Councilmembers Coordinate Coup on Isthmus Issue


Above: Smiles and cooperation abound before tonight's Olympia City Council meeting with Councilmember Rhenda Strub, left, helping newly elected councilmember Stephen Buxbaum, and Councilmember Craig Ottavelli helping Councilmember Jeannine Roe. Terry Gregerson, middle, of the city's Information Technology department, is most likely helping all of them.

By Janine Gates
www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com

Community members packed into the city council chamber tonight for the council's first meeting of the year, and not only witnessed the swearing in of newly elected councilmembers Stephen Buxbaum, Karen Rogers, Jeannine Roe and Joe Hyer, but also witnessed a democratically choreographed coup of sorts.

After public comment by 14 citizens and other business, councilmembers Buxbaum, Rogers and Roe led the effort to begin reversing the efforts of the previous council regarding the fate of the controversial isthmus area in downtown Olympia.

With three stunning motions, which all passed, the newly reconstituted council accomplished more for many citizen activists in one meeting than in a whole year of trying to work with the previous council on isthmus-related issues. (See previous articles at www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com in 2009 on the isthmus issue.)

In what was an obviously well-planned, coordinated approach, Councilmember Stephen Buxbaum began by requesting a motion for city staff to bring back, next week, an interim rezone agreement to revert the zoning on the isthmus to what it was prior to January 1, 2009, have it remain in effect through the completion of the 2010 Comprehensive Plan and have staff select a date for a public hearing on the ordinance within 45 days.

Councilmember Roe seconded the motion. Councilmember Hyer said he would support the motion but would ask for an executive session before the next meeting to discuss potential legal issues. The vote passed unanimously after clarifications and discussion.

Then, Councilmember Karen Rogers made a motion to withdraw the city’s limited Shoreline Master Plan amendment request to the state Department of Ecology for the isthmus area. Councilmember Buxbaum seconded the motion.

A letter to the city dated June 10, 2009 from Gordon White, manager for Ecology's Shorelands and Environmental Assistance program, essentially kicks the amendment back to the city, and expresses Ecology's difficulties in processing the city's request. Pursuing the application and answering Ecology's questions would require significant city staff time to provide more information.

The motion passed unanimously after some discussion.

Councilmember Strub, looking stunned at the relatively swift passage of the previous motions, actually did not express a verbal "yea" or "nay" vote on either of the motions. Her vote, however, was registered as a "yea" since she did not abstain, Mayor Mah explained to this reporter later.

Council cooperation dissipated after Councilmember Jeannine Roe made a motion to direct the city manager to submit a letter to the Legislature, conveying the council's endorsement of Senator Karen Fraser’s SB5800 and its companion bill HB 2081. Councilmember Buxbaum seconded the motion.

"I'd like to go all the way with you...but I cannot do this...I can't agree because this bill is a usurpation of our local authority. We have the right to make determinations," said Councilmember Strub after Roe's motion. "You three fought for the right to sit here," lectured Strub, looking at Councilmembers Roe and Buxbaum, 'but I won't give it up...I don't want to give it to them.'"

Rogers said she appreciated Strub's concern but explained that, "In 1972, the state created a shoreline master plan for a reason. Shorelines are special. They belong to the whole state. They didn't quite trust local governments to (safeguard them). You don't give away the crown jewels. Let's be clear - this is a shoreline of statewide significance."

Councilmember Ottavelli agreed with Strub that he could not support the motion. Mayor Mah said he had concerns with the Senate bill's creation of a special height district, and with it, restricts heights to a maximum of 35 feet.

After a lengthy discussion, Councilmember Strub attempted to wrap it up, and explained to the new councilmembers that they could vote against their own motion, which brought general laughter, but then, she seemed to personally threaten the new-comers by slowly saying, "So I'm going to look at you one last time: don't--push--too--far. I've welcomed you with open arms. There's time for this later...."

Unfazed, Councilmember Buxbaum said, "It may be appropriate to point out that (the Senate's) companion bill does not have the height district language. And I hope as we develop as a council, none of these actions will be construed as personal. We're all working toward the common good...and we may agree to disagree."

The vote passed 4 - 3 with Councilmembers Strub, Ottavelli and Mah voting no.

Waterfront activists and community members, gathered outside council chambers in the hallway after the meeting, expressed relief and excitement that their voices were finally being heard by the newly elected council.

“It’s democracy at its best isn’t it? This should give everyone hope that the impossible is possible,” said Bonnie Jacobs of Friends of the Waterfront, after the meeting, which adjourned at about 9:20 p.m.


Above: Councilmember Jeannine Roe, left, and Councilmember Karen Rogers, center, greet community members during a council recess tonight.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Highest Tide in Olympia Marks Sea-Level Rise Concerns and Local Action

by Janine Gates
www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com


Above: South Sounders woke up early, grabbed their coffee, and gathered on Percival Landing in downtown Olympia between 8:00 - 9:00 a.m. this morning to observe the year's highest tide on Budd Inlet. Yea, we're a pretty funny bunch here in Olympia.

According to the latest climate change information, melting ice caps and warming oceans could add up to five feet to current sea levels by the end of the century. For Olympia, that means most of downtown will be underwater when coupled with a normal high tide, according to the City of Olympia’s projected sea level rise studies.

Several dozen South Sounders braved the cold wind and rain to gather downtown on Percival Landing this morning to observe the highest tide of the year, which was expected to be 17+ feet.

Several speakers and a lively band, the Artesian Rumble Arkestra (ARK) entertained the crowd through pelting rain between 8:00 - 9:00 a.m. The highest tide level occurred at 8:37 a.m., and a moment of silence was requested of the crowd to reflect upon the implications climate change will have on our children and grandchildren, and the need for global and local action.

“The ocean is like a giant cruise ship - it has tremendous inertia and because of this, we’ve already locked in not only decades of future sea level rise, but centuries worth…By the end of this century we predict that sea levels in the Puget Sound could increase by over four feet…,” Spencer Reeder, lead policy strategist on climate change for the Washington State Department of Ecology told the crowd.

Reeder said that Ecology has just launched a new observation and research program with federal partners at the U.S. Geological Survey. For more information about this program, go to www.ecy.wa.gov and follow the “Facing Climate Change” links.

Monica Hoover, a concerned Thurston County citizen, said she was glad to see such a good turnout for the event. "It shows how much we care about our shoreline and our environment," said Hoover.

Hoover is particularly concerned about the Port of Olympia's development of the NorthPoint area, and circulated a petition asking port commissioners to halt all NorthPoint redevelopment projects, “pending a full and open public process of engagement and dialog.” The petition also asks that the commissioners suspend its exclusive development agreement with MJR Development to potentially develop the NorthPoint area with a hotel and restaurant.

MJR Development staff admitted at an October open house that they had not seen Olympia sea-level rise maps or data. According to city studies, the NorthPoint area would be underwater in the event of sea-level rise. Hoover said she will be presenting the signed petitions to commissioners on Monday, January 11, 5:30 p.m. when the Port commission has its next meeting. The usual location for Port of Olympia commission meetings is the LOTT Board Room at 111 Market St. NE. Check the website prior to the meeting: http://www.portolympia.com/commission/schedule.

Linton Wildrick, a Tumwater hydrogeologist, also turned out to see the high tide. Wildrick said he spent thousands of hours as a member of the now-defunct group, Friends of the Artesians, to find a replacement well for the one in the Diamond parking lot near Fourth Avenue, and worked to get a permit for a new well on the port property.

“The tide is pretty interesting....We’re in a unique location. The weight of the glaciers from 13,000 years ago depressed the earth’s crust, maybe by tens of feet, and the land, since the glaciers melted, has been rebounding ever since. It’s very, very slow but it’s just enough to help...but the margin is very, very thin,” said Wildrick.

Andy Haub, City of Olympia Public Works planning and engineering manager, is taking the lead on sea-level rise issues for the city and attended the high tide observance. Asked about Wildrick’s assessment that the land is “rebounding,” Haub said, “I don’t disagree with him, but some people may say that the elevation in Olympia is sinking. About 25% of expected sea level rise in the next 100 years could be attributed to geologic subsidence, but now that’s being questioned…it will take about 20 years to figure it out….”

Haub will be giving an overview of recently completed land elevation-related work on the potential impacts of sea level rise on downtown Olympia. The event, Monday, January 11, 7-9 p.m., Olympia Center, 222 Colunbia St., is co-sponsored by Olympia Climate Action. For more information about the event, contact Barb Scavezze at 878-9901 or barb@scavezze.com. Haub recently gave a similar report to the Olympia City Council. City of Olympia Sea-Level Rise and Climate Change information is available at: http://www.ci.olympia.wa.us/community/sustainability/climate-chang
e.aspx

Haub later said that by 9:30 a.m., the tide had lost a half foot or so.

“We keep looking for all these dramatic signs but it’s going to be incremental…we’re better without the drama (sudden, catastrophic events) but that’s what gets people’s attention," said high tide observer Scott Morgan.


Above: Several dozen South Sounders braved the cold wind and rain to gather downtown on Percival Landing this morning to observe the highest tide of the year.