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Port of Olympia election offers needed change

Many people don’t realize that the Port of Olympia serves all of Thurston County, that the Port levies property taxes on every property owner, and that everyone in the County can vote for Port Commissioners.

Ballots for the 2019 Port election are coming in October. I would like to explain why voters in Thurston County should vote for Helen Wheatley for Port of Olympia Commissioner, Position 1. This election is particularly important because electing Wheatley will put a strong progresssive majority on the Port Commission consisting of Wheatley and current commissioner E.J. Zita. Together they will have the ability to create a Port that serves the people of Olympia rather than subsidizing a handful of wealthy corporate interests like Weyerhaeuser, SSA Marine (one of the largest corporate marine terminal operators in the world), and Brusco Tug and Barge.

The Port has consistently lost money on serving these businesses — in 2018 a total of $4 million. The marine terminal operation lost $1.5 million; Swantown Marina and Boatworks over $300,000 and Peninsula Properties, the Port’s real estate enterprise, lost $400,000. This pattern is the same year after year as past Port Commissioners have turned to taxpayers to cover these losses.

This is not the way it is supposed to work. Weyerhauser and other profit-making businesses that use the Marine Terminal should pay the cost of operations. Instead of losses, there would be revenue that the Port could use to undertake new operations, environmental clean up, and public access projects.

For example, the Port of Tacoma last year obtained more than $20 million in net revenue from their operations. This was after covering all their operating and non-operating expenses, including interest on debt. And not just Tacoma, but the Port of Port Angeles marine terminal made more than $2 million and the Port of Everett marine terminal made $1.7 million. The Port of Everett has a stated policy that all operations must be self-sustaining, including debt interest and repayment, and that tax dollars are used only for environmental and public access projects.

Fortunately, in this election we have an opportunity to clean up Port politics and make a major course correction. Helen Wheatley is running a progressive campaign backed by a grassroots movement of concerned citizens who want fiscal, social, and environmental responsibility at the Port. She has a long record of public service and environmental activism, and is the kind of strong progressive leader that our Port needs. I urge all WIP readers to support her campaign with a donation or help the campaign directly by doorbelling or phone banking. Most importantly, please vote this November for Helen Wheatley for Port Commission.

Jeff Sowers graduated from Capital High School in 1982, from the UW in 1987. For the past 17 years, he has taught math and environmental science at East Grays Harbor High School, an alternative high school in the Elma District. He is a Democratic precinct committee officer in the Ames precinct.

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