Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Olympia Port Votes for “Acceptable Cargo”

Above: The meeting room was packed with community members wanting to provide comment to Port of Olympia commissioners on the topic of acceptable cargo, Monday evening. The commissioners passed a resolution affirming their continued acceptance of ceramic proppants and other safe and legal cargo, such as military cargo, energy products, forest products, and agricultural products.

By Janine Gates

The Port of Olympia may need to find a larger room for its commission meetings as community interest increases in its policies, finances, and business decisions.

At least six Port staff willingly gave up their seats to accommodate the crowd. Jeff Smith, port finance director, rolled out more chairs as community members continued to file in and sit in chairs and on the floor or stand lined up along walls for the three and a half hour long meeting Monday night. 

Among other business, on the agenda was a discussion and vote on acceptable cargo. 

The resolution was written in response to the week-long November rail blockade of a Union Pacific train leaving the Port of Olympia carrying ceramic proppants and centered on the Federal Shipping Act of 1984 that states “terminal operators cannot unreasonably discriminate in the provision of terminal services.”

The resolution also makes several statements regarding its expectations for law enforcement agencies with jurisdiction to promptly take appropriate action in the event protest activities violate local, state and/or federal laws.

Port staff, rail blockade protesters, water protectors, longshore workers, Vietnam veterans, tribal members, students, youth, and elders all spoke to their perspective on the issue. 

Throughout the evening, 46 individuals spoke at public comment opportunities.

Many urged the commissioners to not rush to a vote, while others, many of them longshore workers, urged them to make a decision, get on with other issues, and enjoy the holidays.

Addressing port safety issues, Port of Olympia human resource staff member Jeri Sevier read a prepared statement detailing current working conditions for port staff, foreshadowing possible future legal implications if the situation does not improve.

“….As leaders of this Port, I am sure you find it to be very concerning – that your employees are enduring intimidation and harassment. Protesters have broken our windows, sprayed graffiti on our building, an employee being attacked and harassed while driving Port vehicles through town.

“Almost daily I am getting reports of employees being flipped off, being yelled at while entering the Port building or by driving a port vehicle. You as our highest leadership at the Port understand the impact your actions – or inactions have had on the hard working loyal employees that are doing their jobs day after day – all to make the Port successful. 

“The Port staff feels unsafe in our current working environment in the City of Olympia. We as employees set aside our personal beliefs to fulfill the mission of the Port.  I ask that you, as a Commissioner, set aside your personal beliefs and start doing what is right for the Port of Olympia and its employees.”

Later in public comment, port citizen advisory committee chair Frank Gorecki suggested that staff travel in pairs with cellphones, call 911 as needed, and take photographs of any threatening behaviors. He also wanted to know the City of Olympia’s response to city police Chief Ronnie Roberts’ statement.

Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts denounced the Port of Olympia and its acceptance of ceramic proppants during a council meeting on November 22.

As discussion began on the resolution, Commissioner Joe Downing added an amendment, adding brief language for the inclusion of alternative energy products as acceptable cargo, along with conventional energy products, such as the ceramic proppants, military cargo, forest products, and agricultural products. The addition was approved by all commissioners.

Above: Port Commissioner E.J. Zita reads prepared remarks at Monday night's meeting. Zita illustrated her points against the resolution’s passage with a PowerPoint presentation.

Susan McRae spoke and presented the commissioners a stack of papers which she said contained over 800 signatures of residents of Thurston County.

The title of the petition is, “No Oil Fracking Sands at Our Port,” and reads, “We, the residents of Thurston County, demand the Olympia Port Commission no longer allow oil fracking sand or any cargo related to the extraction of fossil fuels to enter our Port. We want a port that doesn’t significantly contribute to climate change, the single greatest national security threat to the United States. We urge the Port to protect our climate. Native treaty rights, communities, water and wildlife and transition to sustainable economic practices that will not devastate the beautiful planet we live on.”

McRae, as did many other speakers, took issue with the resolution, and its phrase “safe cargo.”

Quoting a portion of the resolution, McRae said that while the port cannot unreasonably discriminate in the provision of terminal services, “it is not unreasonable to reject fracking sands. Fracking sands are unsafe because of how they are used and what they are used for. They cause great harm to our environment and endanger our national security….We need the Port to have a long term vision, looking to a sustainable future. We need an open dialog about the Port’s operations and the future.”

One longshore worker called the petition a slippery slope.

“…I’m just trying to make a living, send my kids to college, and retire with dignity.…(all this divisiveness) is jeopardizing our abilities to provide for our families.

Helen Wheatley presented testimony saying that the resolution is a misinterpretation of the Federal Shipping Act and illogical that the port could accept and handle any and all cargo that is safe and legal. She also took issue with the Commerce Clause, and the cited RCWs, which she said are irrelevant to cargo.

She said the purpose of the Shipping Act of 1984 was to regulate shipping practices, not cargo.

“It was an effort to create sustainable competition and discusses the relationship between the port to the carrier or person, not the carrier’s cargo. This law is no threat to the Port, as Rainbow Ceramics would have to press its case and risk the possibility that the Federal Maritime Commission or a judge might well find the port’s refusal to take its cargo is “reasonable.

“If you want to require openness to certain forms of cargo, be honest and say that you are choosing this path, and allow the public to consider the matter on its merits. Don’t hide policy making behind a cloud of statutes that dissolves under scrutiny….”

Speakers pointed out that port executive director Ed Galligan has declined cargo in the past, such scrap metal. In that case, the port did not have the adequate infrastructure to contain it, it was oily and would have caused environmental contamination of the terminal, and the noise that would have been produced in its processing would have been disruptive to nearby neighborhoods.

“When we say we don’t want fracking sands to come through the Port of Olympia, he (Galligan) says that we have no choice - the Port has to receive any cargo that is “safe and legal,” as if the ships carrying proppants just show up. The truth is that it was on the Port’s own initiative that Rainbow Ceramics, the proppant company, was solicited,” said Pat Rasmussen, who has repeatedly asked for Galligan’s resignation.

“The Port is not an island, the City of Olympia is not an island…you should have turned down the proppants due to inadequate infrastructure…If you needed an additional warehouse, the shipper would have to put up the money for that. Environmental concerns are paramount but somewhere along the lines, economically reasonable, adequate considerations need to be made,” said Denis Langhans.

Langhans was referring to the need for an additional warehouse to store the proppants. A port request in 2014 for $50,000 to build a warehouse was refused by a previous commission, with Commissioner McGregor in the minority of the three member commission. Proppants currently sit outside in bags on marine terminal property under black tarps.

One Vietnam veteran spoke to the port’s past acceptance of military cargo.

“When I see a Stryker going down I-5, I see a trail of bodies. When I see proppants, I see villages being destroyed, the climate being destroyed….” He urged the commission to appreciate what water protectors are doing.

“If Olympia wants to be competitive in the future, it needs to invest. We cannot be left behind. We need to start making these shifts to make Olympia an economically viable place to invest in the future,” said Marles Blackbird, a Hunkpapa Lakota tribal member of the Standing Rock Lakota Nation.

Longshore worker Jim Rose said that if the Port of Olympia doesn’t accept the cargo, they will go to Everett, Seattle, or Grays Harbor to do the job. 

If that happens, we’ll get in our cars, burning fossil fuels, running up and down I-5,” he said.

After hours of debate, Mike Cox, a lifetime resident and graduate of Tumwater High School and The Evergreen State College, urged the commission to make a decision. 

“There’s no reason to talk about this anymore…Make a decision! Don’t sit there and let them fight each other,” he said, motioning to the crowd. “Do your jobs, worry about other issues, and get through the holidays….” 

The final resolution passed, with Commissioners Bill McGregor and Downing voting yea, and Commissioner E.J. Zita voting nay. 

Galligan said that the port is in the process of scheduling upcoming discussions with both the Squaxin and Nisqually tribal councils.

It was the last port meeting of the year.

Above: With no time left on the clock, Olympia resident T.J. Johnson rushes to present commissioners and port executive director Ed Galligan with glasses of water and urged them each to drink it if they thought fracked water was safe.