Friday, June 18, 2010

Who Advises The Port of Olympia?

Above: The Port of Olympia's logyard at the 60 acre Marine Terminal on Budd Inlet. The Port of Olympia owns and operates the Marine Terminal, Olympia Regional Airport, Swantown Marina and Boatworks, and various real estate holdings, including the New Market Industrial Campus in Tumwater.

by Janine Gates

The Port of Olympia met in a special session Monday with their advisory committee to review the work of the group, called the Port Advisory Committee (PAC).

The PAC, composed of 12 volunteer citizens, was formed in 1994 as an outcome of the Port's strategic planning process and provides advice and assistance to the Port Commission on a variety of issues and projects.

At Monday's meeting, the group produced a report of its year long study regarding the New Market Industrial Campus Development near the Olympia Airport. Four out of twelve of the PAC were in attendance.

The New Market area is owned by the Port and is a mixed-bag of potential opportunities, depending on economic variables, regulations pertaining to threatened species such as the pocket gopher, and wellhead protection zones. The property is characterized by high groundwater and is served by two watersheds, Salmon Creek and the Deschutes River.

Above: The New Market area looking from Airport Road and 76th Avenue.

In general, the group told the commissioners that the property is a Catch-22 situation: is it worth the money to fix the problems to attract investors or do nothing, and take a "wait and see" approach.

Commissioner Jeff Davis, a former PAC member, thanked Cosmillo for the information, saying, "I understand that the PAC can't make a recommendation - I appreciate the amount of time you put into it. I hope we can make a decision in the next couple years and not let it just fall stagnant."

"The market is starting to heat up. We want to be ready. We can start moving this forward - we need to start looking at the next step, like scheduling a meeting with the Salmon Creek Neighborhood Association," said Commissioner Bill McGregor.

Commissioner George Barner agreed, replying, "I'm sure they'll have strong opinions and concerns. I was impressed with their level of engagement (in the past) so we should be availing ourselves of their knowledge before we head down the road of development....There's so much sensitivity about how viable this area is - what is a valid method to dispose of it (groundwater)? What are the costs? How much can we pump into this property to make it viable?"

"If you don't do anything, you don't know how viable this property is," said PAC member Don Melnick.

PAC chair Lisa Cosmillo, a real estate broker, said, "It's a Catch-22. A lot of tenants won't come unless everything's there (in place)."

Meeting minutes on the Port website say that the group held a public hearing about the issue in January, but no one showed up. Regarding public engagement, the report says, "If development is given serious consideration, the Port should engage the nearby residential community in preliminary discussions. It is better to involve critics early on since they will likely be involved ultimately."

Salmon Creek Basin Neighborhood Association

Throughout the New Market report, the public, including the Salmon Creek Basin Neighborhood Association, is described as "critics." Concerns have been primarily increased air traffic and environmental issues related to eliminating native forest. According to the Salmon Creek Basin Neighborhood, there are fewer than 200 forested acres remaining in Tumwater on land owned by the Port of Olympia.

Although the commissioners and the advisory committee readily mentioned engaging the nearby neighborhood in its discussions, E.J. Zita, vice-president of the association, was cautiously optimistic about their sincerity. No representative of the group was present at the meeting.

Asked to comment on the report and the invitation to participate in future conversations, Zita said, in a telephone interview, "We would love to be part of the planning process - we've tried to for years and feel like we've been excluded. This area affects our homes and our lives, and the safety of children in our neighborhood, including Bush Middle School."

Zita says that the Port owns Kimmie Street, and started to develop the land five years ago for mega-warehouses.

"We didn't have an association then. The city of Tumwater estimated that if the projects the Port wanted went through, there would be an estimated 12,000 trucks per day on the roads in our neighborhood. The city worked closely with us and restricted the size of the warehouses and the distance from the school. We're grateful to the city for protecting us from the Port of Olympia. The port was not interested in the health and safety of our neighborhood. They chose not to have an open dialog at that time."

"But the threat had a positive outcome. Now we're well organized and can work together to meet challenges if necessary. I hope that won't be necessary," Zita added.

Zita says she applied for a position on the port advisory committee when it was first formed and was not chosen. She was later invited to be a member, but the offer was rescinded.

"The port has found ways to reduce public input over the years and has traditionally not been forthcoming. I have spent years attending port meetings, trying to work with them, but I have not found that effort has been productive," said Zita.

The Port Advisory Committee (PAC)

According to the Port website as of last week, current Port Advisory Committee members are Joseph Downing, Riley Moore, Darlene Kemery, Joe Raudebaugh, Rodney Edgbert, Len Trautman, Jim Wright, Keith Laws, Don Melnick, Kevin Partlow, Clydia Cuykendall, and Lisa Cosmillo.

Lisa Cosmillo says she used to work with the Economic Development Council and is most interested in job development and real estate. She just handed over the chair position to Riley Moore in Monday's meeting. She will stay on the committee.

According to Kathleen White, Port media relations director, Kemery, Raudebaugh, Edgbert, and Trautman have just finished their terms. Interviews have been conducted for their replacements. Twelve applied and were interviewed by Commissioner Jeff Davis, Port Director Ed Galligan, and Lisa Cosmillo. Each term is four years. The new members will be announced on June 28 at the port's regular meeting.

The Future of PAC

At the end of the meeting, Cosmillo gave Commissioner Barner a list of ideas the PAC could explore for what to do next. Historically, the Port points the PAC in a particular direction and the PAC reports back to the Port on their findings.

It would appear that the group is still trying to find its purpose and trying to be more proactive.

In a quote from the memo, a PAC member states, "Since the PAC is officially a public advisory body itself, and since meaningful public input is what the Port seeks, I wondered if the PAC might in this instance be a more credible source to the Commissioners than staff in recommending how more meaningful public input might best be obtained. I think the PAC could undertake a learning process to determine what kinds of public input processes, in addition to formal hearings, are used elsewhere and why. We could reach out to nearby public bodies to learn what kinds of processes they are using and how well they are working. We might even reach out to public involvement professionals and the like to help us understand better what works and what doesn't."

The list includes suggestions and comments from individual PAC members including topics such as the shoreline management plan update, sea level rise, earthquake risks, military shipments, and public access to the port.

McGregor says public involvement was high on his list.

Davis and Barner agreed. Barner said, "I'd like to see us look at Northpoint - that's an imminent discussion."

"I'd like to offer our services soon. We're going to have a dynamite PAC this year - it's going to be hard to choose. I wish we can keep them all," Cosmillo said.

Davis asked Moore if it was possible to have more than one project going on at a time. This seemed possible if they divide into subcommittees.

Davis said, "The port's direction should be outside Olympia, I just don't know where that is. It's one of those things the chambers and the Economic Development Council players could get involved with. Bringing jobs to Thurston County - that's a long-term commitment."

Jim Wright, a former port commissioner, agreed but said, "We would need specific direction from the commission."

Above: Port of Olympia Commissioner Jeff Davis volunteered at the Wounded Warriors event today at the Olympia Regional Airport. Here, Davis serves Army Specialist Steven Ferrick, a transportation truck driver, who was wounded in February by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan.

The event, now in its third year, is a partnership between the Washington State Patrol and the Port of Olympia to honor and appreciate our wounded servicemen and women. Davis, a longshoreman, served salmon, rice pilaf, bread and chowder donated by the Alaska Scallop Association.

Above: An F-18, "The Legacy", in town for the Olympic Air Show this weekend, gets gassed up at the Olympia Regional Airport today. According to AD2 Rodriguez of the US Navy, left, the plane holds 10,000 pounds of gas, which is about 1400 gallons. It goes 1.8 mach, about 1400 miles per hour.

The Port Website

In an interview later, Kathleen White admitted that the port website is lacking in information. While doing research for this story, this reporter saw that four PAC meetings were held in 2009, and no meeting minutes for the PAC were posted since January, 2010. That meeting convened for nine minutes. The last PAC meeting agenda posted is for February 24, with no minutes from that meeting available. From the website, it would appear that no meetings have been held since.

This is not true, according to White.

"We had a staff member go on maternity leave and some things have slipped through the cracks. As a matter of fact, we just put out a RFP (Request for Proposals) today to update the website," White said on Monday. "We ourselves have a hard time finding things - we need professional help with it." The website should be updated by the end of the year, she said.

The next Port of Olympia meeting will be Monday, June 28, 5:30 p.m., at Tumwater City Hall.

The next PAC meeting has not been scheduled.

Update on Cascade Pole

At Monday night's Port meeting, the commissioners approved the expenditure of just over $1 million for in-house costs to pursue the capping of Cascade Pole. A contract was awarded of $678,353.06 to PI Resources, LLC to do the actual capping work. Future costs will include post-construction monitoring and reporting.

According to the port, the capping project will excavate contaminated soil from the approximately one acre area outside of the slurry wall containment wall; test the in-place soils, and backfill with clean soils. A shoreline walking trail will be built to connect to the existing trail. The remaining area outside of the slurry wall will be secured in preparation for future development.

The excavated soils from outside the containment wall will be placed inside an approximately one acre area inside the slurry wall, then the grade compacted and capped with an asphalt cap which will include the required storm water systems.

Construction will occur June 26 through October 31.

The bid process for the job was advertised from May 11 to May 26. Bids opened on June 3, the same day as a community event with port and state department of Ecology staff was held. Many in the audience at that meeting expressed opposition to asphalt capping.

According to Rick Anderson, the port's engineering director, the bid included the Port's request to do a partial asphalt cap over the contaminated soil inside the slurry wall.

"We are going for unrestricted use for the area outside the slurry. We will be digging down 18 inches and putting in clean fill. The port has determined that an asphalt cap is the safest possible cap for the area inside the slurry wall."

For more information about the Port of Olympia, call 528-8000 or go to Commission meetings are televised by TCTV and broadcast on cable channel 3 on Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. and Thursdays at 12:00 p.m.

For more information about port issues on this blog, go to and use the search button.

Above: The Cascade Pole area in early June.