Three questions about the Port of Olympia importing fracking sand were posed to the port commissioner candidates, but they largely avoided the questions and stuck closer to more comfortable themes during a forum at Garfield Elementary on Wednesday night.
Six Port of Olympia commissioner candidates attended the forum, which was organized by the Southwest and Northwest Olympia neighborhood associations.
More than 100 people came to the forum to hear the three District 1 candidates, and three people running for the District 3 seat. Four people have filed to run for the District 3 seat, but Larry Goodman, a former staffer for the Washington Federation of State Employees, was absent.
The District 1 candidates are George Barner, the incumbent; Joe Downing, a senior financial examiner; and Joseph Treacy Kreger, a longtime chef. The District 3 candidates in attendance Wednesday night were E.J. Zita, a physicist and faculty member at The Evergreen State College; Jerry Farmer, co-owner of KRXY 94.5 FM; and Bob Jones, a retired military member and small manufacturer consultant.
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Questions were provided to the candidates beforehand, including one about fracking, and two people in the audience asked the candidates about the same subject, which generated a round of applause.
Greg Black of Olympia asked: How do you feel about shipping fracking sand through the port?
But the candidates largely steered clear of that question, except for Barner.
“There are places all over this country where they are fracking, and that’s a product (fracking sand) they want and need to use,” he said. “That’s not my business. I’m a port commissioner and we just do cargo. We ship cargo and we import cargo. That’s all we do.”
The product the port imports is known as ceramic proppants, which it imports from China. It is then sent by rail to North Dakota where it is used in the hydraulic fracturing process to find oil.
Critics of fracking say it is environmentally unsafe and encourages continued use of fossil fuels, while supporters say it has meant additional revenue for the port.
Candidates at the forum were allowed to pick which questions to answer, rather than answer the same questions, and most avoided fracking.
Dan Leahy, an organizer of Wednesday’s forum, said time was a factor in determining the forum’s format. The port discussion was preceded by the Olympia mayor and City Council candidates and the entire forum had to be finished by 9 p.m.
“They’re just getting going,” Leahy said about the candidates. “It was a good initial run.”
Although the five remaining candidates didn’t specifically address fracking, they did make comments related to the marine terminal and the environment.
: “I, too, want to know the value of the port. I will ask: ‘Please show me the business models for all four business lines at the port: the marina, the marine terminal, the airport and the real estate leasing operations.’”
stewardship and sustainability and economic vitality do not have to be mutually exclusive terms. And the port, I think, is in a unique position to advance that agenda.”
: “If projects and designs are done too quickly, sometimes environmental impacts are overlooked. And so if environmental reviews are done more carefully, and we take the time to look at plans more carefully, the port will have fewer public health and environmental impacts.”
: “I’m here to speak for all of Thurston County, and if the port wants to benefit all of Thurston County, it needs to think beyond the marine terminal and think about the whole county.”
: “If we’re going to have a marine terminal, let’s double the level of business because that is where our money comes from as a port, and that will relieve the taxpayer burden. ... And then we need to diversify that cargo. We can’t live on logs and proppants; we need to diversify and the marketing department needs to work harder.”