Port of Olympia – Snapshot of Current Projects, Recent Changes, Plans for Future

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Students experience the working waterfront in a free Marine Terminal tour.


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Port of Olympia Executive Director Ed Galligan shares a snapshot of current projects, recent changes and plans for the future.

The Port of Olympia sits centrally in downtown Olympia. The bustling terminal property, visible from both East Bay and West Bay Drives as well as from Olympia’s Market District, is a foundation in the Thurston County economy. But the Port extends well beyond the downtown terminal. Its holdings include the Olympia Regional Airport, surrounding commercial lands, as well as properties throughout the Market District, Swantown District and the East Bay District near the Hands On Children’s Museum.

ThurstonTalk recently sat down with Ed Galligan, Executive Director of the Port of Olympia, to capture a snapshot of the Port’s current projects, recent changes and plans for the future.

Ports, in general, are tricky to categorize and when asked if ports were more like government or business Galligan smiles and says that they are really a little bit like both. Legally, ports are referred to as “special districts.” They are beholden to the tax payers of Thurston County, but as Galligan explains, “have the charge of running like a business. In simplest terms, we want to maximize our earnings in order to minimize reliance on property taxes.”

The “Three E’s”

Throughout the Port’s many projects, what Galligan calls the “Three E’s” are always at the heart of planning and decision-making. “The Three E’s are environmental stewardship, economic development and earnings. Each of these really separates meaning and importance for the Port,” he explains.

Environmental Stewardship – The Port of Olympia works diligently to clean-up legacy pollution, dating back nearly a century. “Just about everything we do here adds to bringing back the environment to a beneficial position,” Galligan explains. New projects include mitigation of additional impacts to the environment and improvement in the long-term environmental health of the port and surrounding area.

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Citizens share their thoughts at a public workshop during the master planning process for Port properties in Tumwater.

“As an example, we recently spent over a million dollars testing all of Budd Inlet for pollutedsediments,” explains Galligan. “The tests are now with the State Department of Ecology and from the results we will create a long-term clean-up plan.” The Port’s plans align with the overarching state focus on environmental stewardship.

Economy – The Port generates jobs. Direct employment of longshoremen in the port terminal and indirect jobs, such as truck transport of port goods, add up to increased jobs for Thurston County. “Last year alone, we increased the jobs 15% to 20% on just the terminal property,” Galligan cites.

Earnings – The Port of Olympia’s ultimate goal is to maximize their earnings. “We work in a highly competitive environment, competing with our brother and sister ports to the north and south of us,” explains the director, citing Vancouver and Everett as major competitors. Finding a balance between pricing services competitively and earning a profit for the citizens of Thurston County is an ongoing priority and challenge.   The great thing about ports is that their stated purpose includes the charge of being an economic development agency for their constituents.  Galligan said, “The Port of Olympia enthusiastically embraces that facet of the Port’s mission yet recognizes that many ‘economic development’ opportunities may not produce earnings, near term, for the Port while they do significantly help catapult businesses, creating jobs and economic vibrancy for small family owned businesses to mid to large size companies doing business in Thurston County.”

Port Properties – A Promising Future

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The Farmers Market attracts residents and visitors to the Port’s Market District.

The Port’s newest project is the ambitious master planning of the New Market Industrial Campus and Tumwater Town Center. The preliminary investigations underway are rigorous and comprehensive, allowing the public significant input on development plans.

“We are offering several major sessions with the public,” explains Galligan. The sessions, along with extensive research and planning, will help answer questions about market demand and define the technical constraints, such as high water tables and endangered species. “Ultimately,” he says, “having the site planning done raises our competitiveness to attract business and bring jobs to the county.”

“People thought this was some sort of master development plan,” says Galligan of questions raised at the first public session. “A sort of ‘build it and they will come’ approach to the area.” Quite to the contrary, the goal currently is to answer the questions, “What makes sense from the market’s perspective and what doesn’t?” “When we do have those answers, then we can do smart development,” says Galligan, believing firmly that “smart private investment follows smart public investment – they go hand-in-hand”.

The next public session will be held on June 11 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Tumwater Comfort Inn. Click here for more information.

The Port Peninsula

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Students experience the working waterfront in a free Marine Terminal tour.

This fall, the Port will begin a similar planning process for its downtown Olympia lands on the Port Peninsula, including the Marine Terminal, NorthPoint, Swantown and East Bay districts. The Hands On Children’s Museum property was purchased from the port and the port sold the adjacent East Bay Public Plaza property for $1, creating a public space for the community.

The property between the plaza and 4th Avenue will be under discussion later in 2015. “The City of Olympia is updating their downtown plan and the timing will work nicely for the Port to be collaborating,” says Galligan.

Marine Terminal

With the Port’s new mobile crane, they can handle a variety of interesting and unique cargo. “We are known as a ‘niche port’ because we specialize in break bulk cargo, meaning anything that doesn’t go into a container,” says Galligan, such as logs and huge wind energy equipment. “Our longshoremen, the Local 47, do an excellent job handling this cargo efficiently and safely.” The crane gives the Port a competitive edge, handling items of unique size and weight that other ports may not have the capability nor capacity to handle.

Swantown Marina and Public Use

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Local restaurants compete in the annual BoatSwap & Chowder Challenge at Swantown Marina.

Swantown is holding its own,” says Galligan of the steady 85% occupancy rate at the downtown marina. The facility attracts events like the Salmon Derby, scheduled for August 15, bringing outside tourism to the area as well as hosting the port’s Boat Swap and Chowder Challenge.

The biggest buzz of late is about the possibility of a new fuel dock at Swantown Marina. Stay tuned for an upcoming article sharing the status of the project.

Other news? “I’m pretty excited about the possibility of getting the American Spirit Cruise Line here,” shares Galligan. The ship carries 100 passengers and seasonally offers scheduled sailings of the Puget Sound and San Juan Islands. The cruise line ,may do a test cruise to Olympia and Galligan is hopeful that Olympia will be a port-of-call on the company’s upcoming itineraries.

Bringing in the American Spirit has the support of Olympia’s mayor, the Visitor and Convention Bureau, the Thurston Economic Development Council and the Thurston County Chamber. Final schedules will be released in the fall and Galligan is optimistic Olympia will be a featured destination.

Port Tours

The Port continues to expand their public and school tour program. “People are consistently amazed to see a working waterfront, seeing the amount of activity down here,” Galligan says. Tours are free to all interested parties. Tours with students from Thurston County public and private schools number in the thousands for the past few years, approaching 5,000. Bus transportation is covered by the Port for schools in need.

Public tours can be scheduled at any time for any size group, even just for one person. The Port wants to share the work they do and how it positively impacts our community. Call 360-528-8005 or email jennief@portolympia.com to schedule.

The reach of the Port of Olympia is broad and its impact is significant on the economic landscape of our area. Through smart land-use planning, creating solid infrastructure and bringing popular events and tourism to Thurston County, the Port continues to be not only relevant, but an integral piece of our community’s identity and vitality.

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