Saturday, July 1, 2017

Olympia Candidates Discuss Sea Level Rise Plan

Candidates Fishburn, Zita, Miller, Gilman and Rollins comment about sea level rise 

Above: Port of Olympia Commissioner E.J. Zita meets with Rueben Males after a community meeting regarding the City of Olympia's sea level rise plan on Tuesday night. Males wants the Port of Olympia to be part of the climate solution, and not the problem, by initiating job creation to renewable energy and promoting the local sale of locally produced electricity. 

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Several elected officials and candidates for public office were present at the City of Olympia's community meeting on sea level rise issues Tuesday night. 

The city revealed a schedule of activities to be spearheaded by the city, the Port of Olympia, and the LOTT Clean Water Alliance. 

The process is expected to take 18 months.

This past week, Little Hollywood asked each candidate who was in attendance what they thought about the sea level rise planning meeting, the concerns expressed by community members, the concept of a strategic retreat, and what, if any, questions they had about the process.

Bill Fishburn is running for Port of Olympia commission, District 2, currently held by Bill McGregor.

“….What I see is a plan for a plan….Through a project management lens, I see that the engagement with the public seems late in the process. The first workshop comes three fourths of the way through what appears to be the third phase,” said Fishburn.

“The Squaxin Island Tribe, Washington State, and environmental groups appear to be absent from the early discussions and planning. And much of what I can see of the 'plan for a plan' appears to be focused on downtown. Such a narrow scope has the risk of leading to narrow solutions.

“That said, I was impressed by the number in attendance and the willingness of the city to engage with the public outside the milestone dates in their schedule. Since the city signed an interlocal agreement with LOTT and the Port, it was also good to see at least one port commissioner in attendance.

“My question would be: Given some of the pollution present in the impacted areas, what are we doing proactively to deal with that pollution? Between now and 2050, are there other phenomena such as king tides and heavy rains that need to be considered in our interim solutions?

“The strategic retreat discussion is interesting to me for a couple of reasons. I think it's worth exploring, but I think there needs to be a concerted effort to involve the public in how such a retreat would be planned.

“I also find it interesting that at the same time we are talking about sea level rise and how to perform a strategic retreat, the city appears to be still considering permit issuance in places that will be clearly impacted by sea level rise. I wonder if that will make the city and taxpayers responsible for costs associated with sea level rise impacts to buildings resulting from those permits?”

Port of Olympia Commissioner E.J. Zita was in attendance at the meeting. She is running for reelection to her seat in District 3, and has a challenger.

“The City of Olympia has a great start on evaluating risks to our area due to sea level rise,” said Zita.

“Andy Haub and colleagues have shared scientific knowledge so we can understand the impacts to Olympia. When seas rise two feet, we can expect flooding downtown every other day.  This is likely to happen in our lifetime, since climate scientists expect seas to rise by two meters, over six feet, by 2100.  King tides already flood downtown more often, so LOTT has already lifted and waterproofed some of its critical equipment.” 

“Do Olympia, LOTT and the Port need to consider moving or retreating from some infrastructure and operations? Other cities at sea level or built on fill show that we will have no choice but to consider these options. Many in Northern Europe have developed floating buildings. Does it make sense for Olympia to approve traditional construction where flooding is likely, in the lifetime of proposed buildings? We started some important conversations that will be continued. 

“It was disappointing to see no material from the Port of Olympia…. Should the Port increase global warming and sea level rise with fracking sands, or decrease warming by supporting renewable energy infrastructure and job creation? Voters will have a clear choice in the fall port commissioner election,” said Zita.

Above: Allen Miller contributed his opinion on a yellow sticky note at the City of Olympia's community meeting on sea level rise planning Tuesday night. It reads: Dredging Capitol Lake every decade for flood control is much less expensive than removing the tide lock and returning to mud flats.

Allen Miller is a candidate for Olympia city council position #5, an open seat. Two other candidates are also in this race.

“This is certainly the most important environmental issue the city faces.  I remember learning about the greenhouse effect in 5th grade….One of the reasons I led the effort to get the Olympia Metropolitan Park District established was to raise the revenue to buy LBA Woods, the Capitol Center Building and the 'Big W' trail,” said Miller.

“The 'Big W' trail from West Bay marina to Percival Landing, along the Port Peninsula, and up to East Bay will give us the opportunity for public access to the shoreline while protecting downtown from sea level rise by building the trail at elevation.

“The best available science from Evergreen State College professors Oscar Soule, David Milne, and the late Kaye V. Ladd shows that retaining the tide lock and dredging Capitol Lake will be best for water quality, sediment management, and wildlife, while also providing flood control in downtown and the North Capitol Campus. 

“I foresee a Capitol Lake management committee forming with the State, Port, Squaxin Tribe, Thurston County, Olympia, and Tumwater as members which will work together to manage the Lake and Deschutes watershed into the future.

“The State Environmental Policy Act will require us to consider the alternatives including a retreat from downtown.  The preliminary information shows that the environmental and economic costs of retreat will be much greater than providing downtown with more flood control, but a cost/benefit analysis will need to be part of the process under SEPA,” said Miller.

City of Olympia councilmember Clark Gilman is running to retain the seat to which he was appointed in 2016, Position 4, and has a challenger.

Soon after Gilman was appointed, he famously "threw the skunk on the table" at the council’s dramatic study session on sea level rise in February 2016 by questioning the assumption that downtown should be saved.

Little Hollywood asked Gilman after the meeting if he still felt that a strategic retreat should be on the table and explored.

“There were several important questions raised this evening. Most valuable to me were the comments about who should be considered a stakeholder or a recognized organization. I appreciated Judy Bardin's suggestions that we should broaden our outreach and consult with groups who represent social equity, environmental, and community economic development concerns,” said Gilman.

“Seeking reelection has not changed my deeply held understanding that the forces of the river and the ocean are mighty and that our best approach to sea level rise is to harmonize waterfront development with those powerful forces.

“I intend to listen and actively participate as a member of Olympia's Land Use and Environment Committee throughout the sea level rise planning process. My position at this point is that it makes practical sense to protect buildings currently in use through their likely useful lives.

“I don't see the community value in advocating for additional residential or commercial development on the port peninsula. I think it makes sense to apply our policy and incentive influence to encourage investment and revitalization on higher ground,” said Gilman.

Above: Renata Rollins, right, visits one of the storyboard stations explaining the City of Olympia's sea level rise plans at a community meeting on Tuesday night.

Renata Rollins is a candidate for City of Olympia council Position 6, currently held by Jeannine Roe. There is one other candidate in this race.

“We need to have all options on the table. By limiting the scope of the discussion, we can’t be sure we’re going to make the right plan, in terms of the environment and the financial/economic costs to the community, said Rollins.

“I also think it would behoove us to plan further than 20 years. We have 100-year sea level projections already, and we know sea level will continue to rise for centuries even if we make drastic CO2 reductions today. The question of whether a particular action is cost-effective depends on the time scale we’re looking at. Defense might seem to pay off in the short term when compared against costs such as relocating LOTT and other downtown development. But over 100 years? 500 years? Besides, hopefully by then we’re using composting toilets and other sustainable wastewater filtering/treatment methods, making LOTT at its current scale obsolete.

“The fact is, our downtown has been fighting the wisdom of a natural system since the settlers first began to fill the Salish Sea. We take the first step to addressing sea level rise in a realistic way by acknowledging this fact. Doing so doesn’t negate the real sentimental value downtown has for many of us, nor the significant financial investments made there by public and private entities, including our friends and neighbors. It costs nothing to acknowledge the wisdom of natural systems. And it opens the door in the present vantage point to understanding our past and envisioning our future in alignment with this wisdom.

“Rather than fighting sea level rise, we can take it as an opportunity to build a resilient community in the face of climate chaos. Perhaps instead of one town “center” we need the neighborhoods to have their own central social and economic hubs, residential options for all incomes and families, and urban farms to guard against food system instability - a development that will be needed as Washington’s fastest-growing city. 

We need a plan for emergency services to reach all parts of the city even if downtown streets are flooded. We need to move toward a more ecological plan for our wastewater, including significantly reducing wastewater, rather than depending on an Old World solution like LOTT.

The creative and practical possibilities for responding to sea level rise are exciting. And I say this as someone who loves downtown and has been emotionally invested in it for years. As someone who loves downtown Olympia, I really feel the folks who have made significant investments here. I think it’s only right to reframe the discussion and center the need for a longer-range sea level rise plan, over 100 years, and to choose the best and most cost-effective course of action from that data,” said Rollins.

Little Hollywood has written extensively on downtown Olympia sea level rise issues, flooding incidents, the management of Capitol Lake, current sea level rise projections for Olympia with maps and photos. Go to Little Hollywood, and type key words into the search button.

Olympia Plans for Sea Level Rise

Above: Community concerns regarding the City of Olympia's plan to address sea level rise are written on yellow sticky notes, reduced to the length of a tweet, at a community meeting Tuesday night. 

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

The City of Olympia is about to embark upon a very traditional planning process to address the most critical environmental issue threatening the city's very existence: sea level rise.

At a community meeting at the Olympia Community Center Tuesday evening, the city revealed a schedule of activities spearheaded by the city, the Port of Olympia, and the LOTT Clean Water Alliance. 

The process is expected to take 18 months.

Omnipresent yellow sticky notes were made available to capture and reduce community concerns to soundbites.

City staff also encouraged the public to place little colored coded stickers on a map of downtown Olympia to indicate answers to typical softball questions: “Where have you seen coastal flooding in Olympia in the past?” and “What are your favorite shoreline areas?” and “What features do you like?”

About 40 people were in attendance.

Andy Haub, director of water resources for the City of Olympia, began his presentation with an explanation of how, in 2010, the Olympia city council committed to protect downtown and its infrastructure.

Most notably, this includes the Budd Inlet Treatment Plant, located in downtown Olympia, which treats the region’s 12 million gallons of wastewater per day. Valued at $500 million, relocating the plant would cost an estimated $1.2 billion.

Built on fill about 100 years ago, the area of the Port of Olympia, the seventh largest marina in the state, is also expected to be dramatically impacted by just one foot of sea level rise.

“The time is now, and we’re vulnerable….The future doesn’t feel that far away anymore,” said Haub. 

Susan Clark, project manager for the city’s sea level rise plan, outlined how the plan will be developed and engages the public.

The city has hired an international engineering firm, AECOM, to help implement the plan.

“At $250,000, the planning process reflects the next step. It is not the end point of sea level rise planning….We want to get this right. It’s too important not to,” said Clark.

She said that over 20 internal working groups are working to develop a framework for the plan. The groups include staff from many departments, including parks, transportation and emergency management, along with elected officials.

An inventory of assets will be conducted, including open space, from the Fourth Avenue Bridge and the isthmus to East Bay and Marine Drive. Private property on East Bay and West Bay will not be included. Then, a vulnerability assessment on those assets will be conducted.

The final step will develop adaptation strategies such as tide gates and retrofits to existing buildings.

The city says it will conduct focus groups with the business community and others, including three workshops, the first to be held in October. The idea is to wrap up the plan by December 2018.

The city has a new electronic newsletter addressing sea level rise planning issues.  Community members can self-subscribe to it at

Above: The city is looking to cutting edge sea level rise planning efforts currently underway around the country. It is particularly looking for guidance from the San Francisco Sea Level Rise Action Plan and the Marin Shoreline Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Assessment. The draft Marin Ocean Coast Sea Level Rise Adaptation Report is currently out for public review, said Susan Clark, project manager for the City of Olympia's sea level rise planning efforts.

Several audience members expressed their displeasure with the Port’s contract with Rainbow Ceramics and continued acceptance of ceramic proppants. Others wondered where the funding was going to come from to protect downtown.

Rueben Males was disappointed with the region’s approach to sea level rise planning, and said so at the meeting. He has started an organization called Jobs in Renewable Energy, a non-profit cooperative whose purpose is to incubate worker owned cooperatives.

He said he wants the Port of Olympia to be part of the climate solution, and not the problem, by initiating job creation to renewable energy and promoting the local sale of locally produced electricity.

He suggested that the Port of Olympia host the space necessary for a solar farm at the port district's airport property and/or for a solar farm at the port property on Budd Bay.

Community member Judy Bardin, along with several others, was disappointed that the city has apparently still not reached out to local environmental organizations for their assistance and guidance on sea level rise issues.

“Stakeholders are taxpayers,” she said. In April, after the last community meeting, Bardin provided the city a comprehensive list of local organizations to contact.

When asked what organizations the city has consulted with to date, Haub responded that he has met with the city’s Planning Commission and two Rotary groups, and the Coalition of Neighborhood Associations.

“We need to define what downtown means to us…We can’t capture it all, I’m sure. Give us suggestions and a venue and we’ll be there,” Haub responded.

Local attorney Charlie Roe, father of Olympia city councilmember Jeannine Roe, said that one of the requirements of stated law within the state's Shoreline Management Act is that one option needs to be no action. He asked if the possibility of no action on sea level rise has been ruled out.

“The state is providing some guidance on climate change and sea level rise but it is not a clear mandate. We see this as a local initiative...we have chosen to incorporate it into the city’s version of the Act, requiring setbacks along the shoreline…Unfortunately, to be candid, the guidance from federal and state government is very limited these days and we need to move forward,” responded Haub.

Little Hollywood has written extensively on downtown Olympia sea level rise issues, flooding incidents, the management of Capitol Lake, and current sea level rise projections for Olympia with maps and photos.

Recent articles include “Olympia Starts Sea Level Rise Planning” at and “Olympia’s Sea Level Rise Plan Begins with Port, LOTT” at

For more articles, go to Little Hollywood, and type key words into the search button.

Above: Former City of Olympia councilmember Karen Messmer was happy to express a few opinions about the city's sea level rise plan using several yellow sticky notes at Tuesday night's community meeting.