Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Zita Sworn In As Port of Olympia Commissioner

Above: E.J. Zita, left, was sworn in as a new Port of Olympia commissioner by Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall at the Thurston County Courthouse on Wednesday morning. Although she trailed opponent Jerry Farmer on election evening, Zita gradually pulled ahead for a final lead of 227 votes out of a total of 52,659 votes cast, not counting write-ins. A machine recount of the ballots is not expected to change the outcome of the election, said Hall.

Interview with Port Commissioner Zita 

By Janine Gates

With the Thurston County elections certified on Tuesday, E.J. Zita was officially sworn into office as a Port of Olympia Commissioner by Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall on Wednesday morning.

After her swearing-in, Hall congratulated Zita and remarked that the final election numbers that gave Zita the eventual lead over her opponent, Jerry Farmer, was not typical.

“Typically, the numbers don’t flip…. In the port race for Position #1, George Barner gained 2.93% between election night and certification, and the Metropolitan Parks District ballot measure in Olympia gained about two percent, as did this port race. I can’t verify it as fact, but I heard that it was because of this race, that people waited until the last minute to vote,” said Hall, still studying the statistics.

Although a machine recount will occur, the results are not expected to change the final outcome.  Zita said she will participate in Thurston County’s formal swearing-in ceremony for all newly elected and re-elected officials on Wednesday, December 30, 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. at South Puget Sound Community College, Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts. The event is open to the public.

In a prepared statement, Zita said, “Voters had a clear choice in this Port Commission election.  Our campaign was supported by hundreds of small contributions and great volunteers - people who care about public resources, open public processes, and a sustainable future.

“....Working together, we can improve port operations, relations with the public, our bottom line, and the environment.  I am already working with good port staff, and I look forward to productive service with my fellow Commissioners….From day one, I will insist that all port business be open and transparent, that the Port Commission is financially accountable, and that we approach development in a smart, sustainable way,” she said.
Zita said that the first thing she'll do as a new port commissioner is her homework.

“I'm already working with staff to get up to speed on issues, and I'll be doing a lot of reading and research as I step into this role,” she said.

Zita is fulfilling the term held by former port commissioner Sue Gunn, who resigned due to health reasons. Michelle Morris was appointed to the position in June and served until Monday, November 23. Zita will be up for election again, if she chooses to run, in 2017, as will current Port Commissioner Bill McGregor.

The next meeting of the Port of Olympia is Monday, December 14, 5:30 p.m., at the Port of Olympia offices at 626 Columbia St. NW, Suite 1 – B, Olympia.

Washington Public Ports Association Training

Interviewed after her swearing-in, Zita said she participated in the Washington Public Ports Association (WPPA) training in Seattle last week. 

Asked if she learned anything new or particularly enlightening, she said that the training emphasized that Port Commissioners should hold all discussions in public, welcome all public comment, and televise all sessions. 

“Ports have two complementary missions - economics and public good….Whatever actions ports take, the WPPA explained the importance of sharing our reasoning with the public on all processes and decisions.  We should even publicly recap conversations held in “executive sessions,” which are private because of sensitive content. 

“All of our material should be posted online - people should not have to ask for it.  WPPA advises that the perfect citizen - someone who attends every port meeting and reads all the information - should never be surprised by our decisions, because we have been open about everything going into them.  Citizens should always be treated with friendly respect, and given ample time to testify, whether it is on our agenda or not, even if it makes meetings run long.  Good relationships with the public are one of the highest priorities for the WPPA.

“The WPPA provided legal and ethics training, which I got certified in.  A quorum of commissioners may not “meet” for coffee, on the phone, by email, etc. except at commission meetings.  If we find ourselves at public events together, we cannot talk business.  It's legal to carpool to events together, but it may not be a good idea.  And all port correspondence is subject to public records requests - so I will keep mine on port-issued devices,” said Zita.

A Few More Questions

Little Hollywood also asked Zita about her role as chair of the Thurston County Agriculture Advisory Committee.

Zita says she will remain chair of the Thurston County Agriculture Advisory Committee, which advises the county commissioners on current issues. She said her work on food production, farming and other agricultural issues will be complementary to her new position at the port. She said that the group recently drafted a new urban agriculture ordinance which is expected to be presented to the Board of County Commissioners by the beginning of 2016.

“We’ve been working a couple of years to make the ordinance for farming in the urban growth area more consistent with Lacey, Olympia and Tumwater ordinances. In some cases, it is currently more restrictive to farm in the county. We’ve worded it in such a way that makes farming in the areas of beekeeping, poultry, and rabbits in the urban growth area flexible and easier overall,” said Zita.

The group will also be delving into the issue of industrial hemp.

Asked what she thinks about recent conversations during port meetings about daylighting Olympia’s Moxlie Creek, which runs under city streets and exits through a pipe into East Bay, Zita said, “(Olympia resident) Harry Branch and others make good arguments that a Moxlie Creek estuary could effectively remediate contaminants such as nitrates in the creek, while restoring ecosystem services and a valuable recreation resource.

“I would like the Port to start climate planning with the City of Olympia, the state Department of Ecology, and the Thurston Regional Planning Commission. The City of Olympia is a leader in climate change planning and the port needs to know what’s coming. The possibility of remediating contaminated streamflow with a restored wetland in that area should be reviewed as part of that process.”

Zita said she welcomes the public’s suggestions for drafting proposals on the process.

Earlier this month, Zita also answered a few quick questions on emerging port issues:

Little Hollywood: What is your opinion of the code of conduct resolution (then before the commissioners), and would you vote and sign for or against it?

Zita: I agree with Port Commissioner George Barner, and with the public comments made by Bev Bassett, Denis Langhans, Monica Hoover, Jan Witt, and Sharron Coontz.

LH: Can you foresee any situation in which you might want to disagree with what another port in Washington is doing and offer them your opinion, as Commissioners Barner and Gunn did with their letter to the Grays Harbor/Hoquiam ports and their roles in the status of the oil terminals? 

Zita: Commissioners Barner and Gunn took a courageous stand.  More Pacific Northwest ports will be called on by the people to stand as a "thin green line" between extreme fossil fuel extraction and dangerous shipments to Asia.

LH: How would you have voted on the building of another warehouse for the storage of ceramic proppants and other shipments requiring shelter? Would you be interested in revisiting this issue as a new commissioner?

Zita: No and no.  The current warehouse is mostly empty.

LH: In a February 22, 2015 article on my blog, I wrote about a Port work session topic, the re-creation of a "Berth 4." At the time, it was billed as an "information only" discussion, but staff is spending time analyzing its feasibility. Do you have an opinion about the creation of a Berth 4?

Zita: I haven't read that article yet....

LH: Do you feel port work sessions should be televised?

Zita: Yes.

Above: According to the Port of Olympia, the channels on port property parcels 2 and 3 near State Street as seen here on November 20, are directing stormwater flow to remain on the two parcels, rather than allow it to flow out to the sidewalk and into the City of Olympia storm drains. 

“It is a requirement of the state Department of Ecology that we keep the stormwater on site, since Parcels 2 and 3 are within the boundary of the East Bay Redevelopment Cleanup Site,” said Kathleen White, Port of Olympia, on Wednesday. 

Port of Olympia Commissioners McGregor, Barner and Morris voted on Monday night to move forward with a mixed use development agreement with developer Walker John on this property near East Bay and State Street in downtown Olympia. Commissioner Barner voted no.

Harry Branch, an Olympia resident and retired captain of fishing, charter and research vessels with a Masters of Environmental Studies from The Evergreen State College, commented at a recent port meeting that a mixed use development on this location places significant limitations on the option of restoring or daylighting Moxlie Creek.

Branch believes that development of this property is a violation of the Clean Water Act because the parcels are likely an uncontrolled source of dioxin. He has offered the commissioners a detailed alternative for the site that would environmentally clean up and restore the historic estuary to a functioning ecosystem.

Commissioner Barner expressed an interest in having a work session on the topic and extended an invitation to Branch to further educate the Commission.

For more information about Port of Olympia activities, go to

For past stories about the Port of Olympia issues at Little Hollywood, go to and type key words, issues, and names into the search button.

Correction/Clarification Added November 27: Commissioner Barner voted no and Commissioners McGregor and Morris voted yes on the developer agreement with Walker John. Little Hollywood explained who was on the commission at the time of the vote to approve the agreement, but neglected to state Barner's vote. 


  1. Thank you Janine but I feel like I've kind of missed the mark, partly because I'm still figuring this out. Parcels 2&3 are critical to the restoration effort because that's where the intertidal zone would have to be located. There's no place else. We need as much intertidal area as we can conjure up. The design favored by restoration advocates brings the stream down Cherry instead of Chestnut. That option is out the window now too. Every square inch is important. Otherwise the effort to daylight the stream is largely symbolic. We're giving up so much just to allow a building in the wrong place. Harry

  2. It is interesting that the Port of Olympia says the channels on East Bay Parcels 2 and 3 shown in the picture are "directing storm water flow to remain on the two parcels, rather than allow it to flow out to the sidewalk and into the City of Olympia storm drains." These channels look like infiltration channels installed to try to de-water the site by moving the water downward into the soil where it would then most likely move laterally below ground out to East Bay. If water was held on the site through these channels, they would fill up and hold the water in the winter or during rain events and the water would stay until it leaves through evaporation and transpiration. If the water on the site is moving downward into the soil and then laterally out to East Bay, does it then carry dioxin (made mobile in water by its association with petrochemicals as described by Harry Branch) out to East Bay? Hasn't the Port said that City of Olympia is a likely source for continued dioxin contamination in East Bay? I believe I have read this and am looking for the reference. Is this lateral movement of water that then daylights in the bank that is sloughing along East Bay contributing to the instability there?

    Additionally, the wetland report for this site prepared by a consultant and accepted by Dept of Ecology identified only the rain falling directly on the site as the water source of the wetlands. There appears to be an additional water source on this site such as a spring or artesian well. The evidence for this is the cat tail and sedge dominated plant community that is present through the linear wetland in the middle of the site, and that this area is wet enough to support cat tails and is green throughout the year as compared to the more shallow puddle-like areas on the site that fully dry up during the summer. The Port's current movement forward with development on Parcels 2 and 3 relies in part on the determination by the consultant and acceptance by Dept of Ecology that the wetlands are the result of the previous clean up actions to "hold" storm water on the site and so are "artificial" wetlands and therefore are not regulated. Because of this determination, they can be filled and covered; which is the next step for the Port following additional "cleanup" that is on its way to a contract after the last Port meeting.

  3. One statement in this article caught my eye as being worthy of discussion:

    “Ports have two complementary missions - economics and public good…

    This is what the Washington Public Ports Association told Zita and other new commissioners.

    And it mirrors most discussions about the economy today, in that it separates the economy from the people. This leads to statements that we have to take certain actions for the sake of the economy in spite of the fact that they hurt people.

    I suggest that the WPPA should simply say that Ports exist for the public good. Period. Benefits to the public come in two forms, direct and indirect. Direct via trails and parks and cleanup of legacy pollution, for instance. And indirect via effects on the economy. It is this second area that is difficult to measure and leads officials to often advocate for actions that increase the amount of economic activity rather than the quality of economic impact. For instance, more jobs rather than good jobs.

    This is what the whole discussion of Port Districts should be focusing on. Instead, we get cover-ups, bogus "economic impact analyses", and yes, outright lies.

    I am thankful for the local portwatchers who are public raising these questions.

    Bob Jacobs