Above: E.J. Zita has applied for appointment to Port of Olympia position #3, previously held by former commissioner Sue Gunn. Zita will also file this week for election to the position.
By Janine Unsoeld
E.J. Zita, best known as Zita, has applied for appointment to Port of Olympia position 3 previously held by former commissioner Sue Gunn.
Zita submitted her application by the May 8 deadline and said she will also file for election for the permanent position. The filing deadline for that process is May 15.
As reported in The Olympian on May 9, local radio station sales manager Jerry Farmer has also applied for the appointment and will seek election to the position.
Zita, a 20 year faculty member at The Evergreen State College with a PhD in Physics, teaches and researches energy physics, solar magnetism, sustainability, and climate change. She also serves as chair of the Thurston County Agricultural Board and is vice president of her Salmon Creek Basin neighborhood association.
Zita’s application to the port lists extensive recent grant-supported research collaborations, published papers, presentations, and leadership activities, all indicating a forward-thinking vision.
“Serving as a commissioner on the Port of Olympia is an opportunity to advance goals that are shared by Thurston County citizens and the port. Sustainable development and environmental responsibility can be profitable, provide jobs, and protect our future. Open processes and responsive public relations can facilitate useful exchanges of ideas, reduce legal challenges, and restore public trust. I have the vision and the skills to help the port reach these goals,” Zita states in her application.
Zita was directly recruited by some supporters of former commissioner Sue Gunn, who recently resigned from her position due to ongoing health issues and says she will carry forth Gunn’s issues of openness and transparency.
Zita also wants change at the port, and for the port to spend public money for the public good and move into the 21st century.
“I have more to learn but I know what my values are. Observing port operations for the last ten years, I know what’s not working and I have a vision for what can work,” she said in an interview at her home this past weekend. Her partner, Nancy Armstrong, owns and operates a health clinic in Olympia and is a 23 year retired veteran of the Army Medical Corps.
Zita, who was first interviewed in 2010 by Little Hollywood about her neighborhood’s relationship with the port, says her concerns about port operations began in her neighborhood about 10 years ago.
Salmon Creek Basin neighbors, concerned about increased air traffic and environmental issues, went to the port in good faith.
“We assumed we could talk about it with them in a neighborly way, but we were soon disappointed. They weren’t concerned. So, neighbors got organized. We had never had an association before….We learned a lot about the public process, appeals, environmental reviews, port finances, and public hearings. We helped pass a sensible warehouse ordinance in Tumwater that helped protect our neighborhood, and here we are, ten years later, and they are trying to get around that law….”
Above: Aerial of the Port of Olympia Marine Terminal and Northpoint taken in December 2014.
Asked how that experience translates to her larger vision for the port, she said the port is not interested in working on smart development that is needed for Thurston County.
“We’re not the only ones who have tried to work with the port….When people go to them and try to talk about these things, their practice is to try and shut them down, hire more lawyers and fight the people who are concerned. I don’t think that’s a good way to use taxpayer money….The port should be using our money for the public good. The port should be listening and working with people for the future and the benefit of Thurston County,” she said.
Zita once applied to be on the port’s citizen advisory committee but her application was not accepted. She is currently serving as an advisory board member on the port’s New Market Industrial Campus and Tumwater Town Center Real Estate Development Master Plan, coordinated by the Thurston Regional Planning Commission.
The port owns about 1,540 acres of real estate in Tumwater. It owns 265 acres of property in Olympia.
“I’m glad they appointed me, but I’ve been on five months now, and while I’d still like to think the citizens on the board can make a difference and do some good, I’m seeing some familiar patterns…and it seems like they have their mind made up about what they want to do,” said Zita. The board is expected to study the issues until November. Their next meeting is scheduled for June 11.
Asked how she would work with the county and the City of Olympia in master planning and environmental efforts, Zita praised the city for its leadership on climate change issues and encouraged stronger relationship with the city.
“We have a lot of good people and great resources and a lot of expertise in the area that we should be tapping into to work together.”
Zita was asked about her position on several specific port issues, such as the possible creation of a Berth 4, the recent purchase of a crane, and the port’s acceptance of ceramic proppants used in the fracking industry. She said she found out long ago that the port does its own environmental reviews.
“The ports are granted a lot of freedom to do what they want to do without much public oversight... Just because they have that freedom doesn’t mean they should use it without consulting the public, and without consulting the experts. The questions I’d ask (for any of these issues) are: Is it good for the environment, is it good for the economy, is it good for local people, and is it good for the community? The port has made mistakes for not consulting more broadly on its plans and I would encourage the port to consult more broadly before making decisions,” she said.
About the port’s financial accountability, she said, “The port is losing $2 million a year. It has stopped including depreciation in its reporting, but we need more financial accountability. The port resists that. We need to hold the port accountable….They have been very creative in its reporting.…If the port is losing funds on projects that are not benefitting the public, then we need to ask why.
“External environmental reviews are needed – the port is like the fox guarding its own hen house….We need good, careful studies done before the port says, ‘We’re going to do this project and nobody can tell us otherwise.’ If we take a closer look, we can prevent big, expensive mistakes that are going to damage the environment and pay a lot of money down the line to fix it.”
Asked about her vision for the port, Zita said she’d like it to be a food hub. Zita says she recently began a formal collaboration with the Conservation Biology Institute in Corvallis, Oregon to model impacts of climate change on agricultural lands in the Pacific Northwest.
“We can create a bigger Tumwater farmer’s market, and create a place where farmers could bring their food for distribution and processing and value-added products. Farming in the county and urban areas is one the fastest growing segments of Thurston County’s economy…. This can create jobs and support people locally, and contribute to our food security….Renewable energy projects is another idea…it’s an investment in the future,” she said.
The 15 acre Armstrong-Zita ranch is located near port property south of Tumwater. Besides their professional careers, the couple offers organic grass-fed beef each summer, taking orders in spring. They have six Angus-Hereford cattle, born and bred on the farm, and are sustainably rotated on lush pasture. Never fed hormones or antibiotics, the animals are slaughtered on-site. They slaughter about three or four cattle a year, serving about 12 families. They also have fresh eggs from free range hens, 38 meat birds, and three horses. They donate beef, eggs, and cash to the South of the Sound Farmland Trust.
Above: On the farm with E.J. Zita and her horses Rusty and Ada this past weekend.
For more information about the Port of Olympia and the subjects discussed in this article, go to Little Hollywood, www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com, and use the search button to type in key words.
For more information from the Port of Olympia, go to www.portolympia.com.