Port of Olympia: Commerce, Emergency Services, Environmental Clean-Up, And Downtown Development

Photo courtesy of Port of Olympia

The Port of Olympia turns 90 years old this year.

And though most Olympians associate the Port with its marine terminal and two large cranes on Budd Inlet, it also owns and operates the Olympia Regional Airport, Swantown Marina and Boatworks, and a real estate division, which includes properties in Olympia and Tumwater.

The Port of Olympia is one of only a handful of consolidated Ports in the United States, having a seaport, marina, airport, and real estate operations.

“There will likely never be any new ports created in America, though ports are vital to a sustainable and vibrant economy,” says Ed Galligan, Executive Director of the Port of Olympia. “Ports are critical entities relative to not only the import and export, but also from an emergency standpoint during regional disasters.”

Given the Port of Olympia’s central location, it plays a critical role in the event of an emergency, such as major earthquake or volcano eruption. If highway transportation were blocked, the Port is the key alternate source for passenger or cargo transportation, and for moving emergency supplies in and out of the area.

Olympia’s Port has been on the upswing during an otherwise economic low tide. In 2008, only one vessel came through the Port. (Vessels carry exports, primarily headed to Japan, China and Korea.)

But in 2009, the Port saw 11 vessels. This upward trend has continued; last year 26 vessels came through the Port.

Barges, imports of logs from Canada, have also risen. From zero in 2008 to 11 in 2009, five barges have come through the Port in the first quarter of 2012.

Photo courtesy of Port of Olympia

“In 2008, we had little to no volume,” says Galligan. “But in 2011, we had 120 million board feet exported out of the Port.”

He points out that in 2004, before the economic slowdown, the Port exported about 40 million board feet. “So even compared to when the Port did have cargo, the current volumes are more than three times recent history.”

The jobs associated with the Port’s activity are significant for Thurston County. “There are over 7,000,” says Galligan. “We’ve actually seen good growth in the last three or four years. The Port of Olympia is one of the few entities that are actually growing business and private industry jobs.”

And the real benefit of that are the wages being paid and the re-spending of those dollars into our community.

One of Galligan’s favorite sets of photos to show folks interested in the Port is a before-and-after collection of the peninsula, taken in 1963 and 2009.

“It’s such a huge contrast between 1963’s smokestacks and the legacy pollution that used to be here versus the much cleaner, and still being cleaned up, area now,” he says.

And Galligan stresses that it’s not only important that the Port brings commerce through our area, but it’s also imperative that it cleans up legacy pollution that goes back more then 50 years.

“One of the things Ports all do, and this Port particularly, is to clean up an enormous amount of legacy pollution that’s been created over the decades and centuries,” Galligan says. “Nobody that’s with this Port today is responsible for that, but we are responsible for making sure we can clean it up and make the environment better wherever possible.”

To that end, the Port is embarking on a $3 million testing program in conjunction with the State Department of Ecology to test the sediments in Budd Inlet beyond what’s necessary for the operation of the Port.

“We’re hoping to have all the test results by early spring of next year, which will be the prelude to a major cleanup that we will embark upon in Budd Inlet,” says Galligan. “That will involve potentially dredging both our berth area down to the authorized depth and over at the marina on the navigation channel.”

Illustration: Mike Kowalski

The Port of Olympia has been instrumental in helping to change the face of downtown’s East Bay. For example, the Port donated (sold for one dollar)  a 31,500 square foot parcel to the LOTT Alliance, where an innovative and attractive public plaza is being constructed. That parcel is valued at $1.2 million.

“The entire East Bay development was a blighted area,” Galligan says. “It was undeveloped, with a partially condemned and partially impaired warehouse.”

The Port’s contribution of that land brings to fruition a vision that the community itself developed more than 10 years ago. “They wanted an 18-hour-a-day, mixed use, public space,” says Galligan, “and that’s exactly what is being created for the public to enjoy.”

As the economy picks up again, that area is now primed and ready. It’s been a strategic vision for economic growth. “Now we’ve got some of the best property here for continued commercial development and job creation in the downtown Olympia area,” says Galligan.



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