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Letter to the Editor

The Port of Olympia will receive $4.8 million in taxes in 2013, from the residents of Thurston County. Thanks to the July 22nd vote of the Port Commissioners, our taxes will be used for many years to come to pay off $23 million in new debt. This new debt will be used to pay for storm water facilities required to address pollution from Weyerhaeuser's log export facility, dredging around the marine terminal, marina, and boat works and a new warehouse for the marine terminal. The Port Commissioners are also considering another $20 million in debt in 2016 for more dredging.

These actions benefit the shipping interests who use the marine terminal, a direct subsidy by all of us who live here in Thurston County to Weyerhaeuser and other corporations. Weyerhaeuser's posted $144 million in profits for the first quarter of 2013 alone. Yet the Port leases leave the residents paying for the infrastructure they need to ship raw logs to China. The Port says they will "pay their share" over 30 - 40 years but the lease is only for 5 years, with the possibility for extensions. It is our taxes that are paying off the bonds.

How did we get in a position where debt is incurred and paid by the county residents for the direct economic benefit of major corporations? In 1911, the state legislature authorized the Port District Act allowing citizens to create port districts to keep the waterfront in public ownership. The original law included several checks on the power of ports including:

  • The 1911 law required voter approval of major port district improvements before port districts expend money on the improvement. This requirement was eliminated in 1913.
  • The original 1911 law also required a ballot proposition approved by at least 60% of the voters to incur any general indebtedness or issue any general obligation bonds. This law was altered in 1921 when port districts were allowed to incur some general indebtedness without voter approval.
  • The original 1911 law also required voter approval of port district comprehensive scheme of harbor improvements, or any amendment to a comprehensive scheme, before money could be expended on capital facilities. This voter approval requirement was eliminated in 1943. -}

    Prior to issuing $23 million in bonds, the Port planned to have only a single public hearing in Tenino and then to vote on issuing the bonds in Bucoda on the Monday after the July 4th holiday weekend. After citizens raised concerns, the port extended the public hearing to the meeting in Bucoda but refused to have a public hearing in Olympia.

    Is it time to bring back the checks on the power of the port in the original 1911 law?

    --Monica Hoover


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