Censured Port of Olympia commissioners bite back

By Corey Morris, October 21, 2014, The Daily World

Fallout continues to spread from a resolution passed by the Port of Olympia criticizing the Port of Grays Harbor and the City of Hoquiam over three proposed oil terminals.


Both the Washington Public Ports Association (WPPA) and the Port of Olympia have traded opposing opinions through official letters.


The WPPA (representing 75 public port districts in the state, including the Port of Grays Harbor and the Port of Olympia) censured two Port of Olympia commissioners on Sept. 16 for an Aug. 25 resolution aimed at Grays Harbor and the City of Hoquiam.


On Aug. 25, the Port of Olympia passed a resolution urging the Port of Grays Harbor to reconsider the oil terminals (currently undergoing environmental impact studies), and the City of Hoquiam to deny permitting. The resolution also urged the state government to review the situation, specifically rail operations through the state.


Port of Grays Harbor Executive Director Gary Nelson continues to criticize the resolution.


“It is bad form to petition a fellow port district to act illegally by breaking an existing lease that is consistent with local zoning and land use laws,” Nelson said in a Monday, Oct. 2, email interview.


Following the August resolution, the WPPA censured Commissioners George Barner and Sue Gunn. (Port President Bill McGregor did not sign the resolution and spoke out against it.)




The censure was announced in a letter sent to the two Port of Olympia commissioners on Sept. 16.


The WPPA “operates with the strongly held tenet that each individual port commission has the right to make whatever decisions they believe are in the best interest of their communities with regards to any development project, as long as those decisions are made legally and follow appropriate process,” the censure stated. “In Resolution 2014-07, the Port of Olympia has shown clear disregard for this principle …”


The WPPA said one port telling another what decisions it can make and what operations it can engage in is inappropriate. It also admonished the Port for calling on Hoquiam to deny permits.


“The tactic of passing an official resolution condemning another port commission for its decisions is inconsistent with the values and behavior of the members of the WPPA,” the censure stated.


The censure was signed by WPPA President Tom Albro (Port of Seattle commissioner), Vice President Roy Keck (Port of Benton commissioner), Secretary Troy McClelland (Port of Everett commissioner), Past President Jerry Oliver (Port of Vancouver commissioner) and Past President JC Baldwin (Port of Chelan County commissioner).




On Oct. 14, the two Port of Olympia commissioners responded to the censure in a letter to the WPPA, saying they were “deeply disappointed” by the censure, pointing out their right to concern, an overstepping by the WPPA and contending against the WPPA description of the original resolution.


“Instead of promoting a constructive discussion, the WPPA chose to attempt to quash it by sternly condemning the commission of the Port of Olympia,” the letter said.


The Port does not stand alone, the commissioners wrote.


“No less than 16 other jurisdictions have passed similar resolutions,” the letter said, including a list with Aberdeen, Hoquiam and Seattle all cited as having passed similar resolutions.


“We have a legitimate right to be concerned over decisions made by jurisdictions adjacent to Thurston County because of the potential negative consequences …” the commissioners wrote. “As public officials, we have a responsibility to protect our citizenry and our natural resources.”


A review by the Port’s attorney shows a lack of authority on behalf of the WPPA to censure the commissioners, the letter said.


“We believe that the WPPA’s executive committee has seriously exceeded its authority by taking such an action,” the commissioners wrote.


The original resolution didn’t “condemn” the Port of Grays Harbor, the commissioners wrote, “It merely asks that the Port of Grays Harbor ‘reconsider’ its decision and the City of Hoquiam ‘deny’ construction permits.”


“The WPPA would better serve the people of Washington — to whom you are ultimately responsible — by retracting your letter and instead focusing on the impact of oil train traffic on our state.”


The wake


While the censure will have no “tangible consequences,” WPPA Executive Director Eric Johnson said, “It was a statement of disapproval from the elected leadership or our association.”


The censure had nothing to do with oil, he added.


“For us this is not about a particular cargo or project — it is about respecting a sister port’s decisions,” Johnson said. “Our board did not take a position on rail safety or freight mobility. We favor both.”


The response was not prompted by any requests from the Port of Grays Harbor.


Nelson called the criticism by Barner and Gunn “hollow” and “hypocritical.”


“Criticizing the Port of Grays Harbor for exploring the transloading of crude oil while at the same time their own port is one of the largest importers of fracking sand in the Pacific Northwest is akin to the pot calling the kettle black,” he said.

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