The people of Thurston County agree with Mr. Illing, generally. In the Port of Olympia’s big “Vision 2050” survey 3 years ago, people rated their priorities for the future of the marine terminal, among other things. You might remember filling out those white cards at events.
People’s top priority at the marine terminal is RECREATION, in the port’s Vision 2050. People want to be able to walk and fish, swim and kayak. They want clean water and a restored shoreline. The port is not working toward that goal now; shorelines and water are contaminated and people and dogs are warned to stay out. Deschutes Estuary Restoration could be a major step toward a healthier South Salish ecosystem, and restored recreation. The port opposes estuary restoration, complaining that it will interfere with navigation. The port boss indicated last year that her mind could be changed if Thurston County ponies up millions of dollars for dredging that the port has long needed but cannot afford.
People’s lowest priority is more shipping at the marine terminal, in the port’s Vision 2050. As Mr. Illing notes, that ship has sailed and those days are over. Marine Terminal operations and maintenance cost taxpayers about $2 M per year.
The Port of Olympia was established 100 years ago to ensure public access to the waterfront. But the people are blocked from the port peninsula by barbed wire and guards. The land, shoreline, and water are contaminated by the port.
The port’s #1 priority should be ecosystem restoration of the peninsula, and its return to the public - in cooperation with the Medicine Creek Treaty tribes, especially the Squaxin Island Tribe. That would meet the priorities of the people of Thurston County. That would fit the goals of all other governments on Thurston County, which agree on Estuary Restoration. That would prepare our region better for climate impacts (see Olympia’s Sea Level Rise plan, especially the Port section). It would be just and wise.
And restoring the port peninsula for recreation would be financially smart. Recreation is undercapitalized in Thurston County, and that is a prime location that people are eager to enjoy with their families - not for movies or tours on asphalt, but in nature. The nearby Farmer’s Market is already the biggest tourist attraction in the area, drawing tens of thousands of shoppers from outside the area. Instead of losing millions every year to an uncompetitive and unpopular marine terminal, the port could be making millions by providing healthy recreation.
Does the port take its own Vison 2050 input seriously? Or does it only hear what fits business as usual? Will Commissioner Downing support another big tax increase to support the Marine Terminal? We’ll find out in November.
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