Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Olympia Police Chief Denounces Port of Olympia, Proppant Shipments


Above: In an early Friday morning raid on the rail blockade, about 17 law enforcement officers moved several protesters back with flash bang grenades. This photo was taken at about 5:50 a.m. outside the Fish Tale BrewPub on Jefferson Street.

Longshoremen, City Offer Some Information on Raid 

By Janine Gates

The Olympia city council chamber was packed to capacity with community members wanting to speak at Tuesday evening’s council meeting, or at least hear a detailed report about the rail blockade of a Union Pacific train that ended last Friday. 

Port staff was in the audience, as well as Thurston County Commissioner Bud Blake.

Instead, they first heard a stunning, tersely worded statement by City of Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts, who strongly denounced the Port of Olympia and its acceptance of ceramic proppants, stating, Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

The train was blocked on November 11 by protesters taking direct action to prevent it from leaving the Port of Olympia with 15 cars of ceramic proppants. 

The Port of Olympia has had a contract with Rainbow Ceramics for several years to accept ceramic proppants from China, offload the cargo, and prepare it for rail transfer to North Dakota and Wyoming for use in the hydraulic fracking process for oil extraction.

The raid which began Friday morning at 4:00 a.m., was conducted by Union Pacific special agents, Washington State Patrol, Thurston County Sheriff’s department, and the Olympia Police Department. 

The train was able to leave Olympia under Washington State Patrol officer escort at 7:00 a.m. 

Above: City of Olympia Chief of Police Ronnie Roberts speaks to city council members Tuesday evening. It angers me to have to put our officers in combat gear to face off with members of our community over something I don’t believe in myself,” said Roberts. 

Chief Roberts was invited to speak by Mayor Cheryl Selby at the outset of the council meeting, who gave a statement:

“Good evening Mayor and Council. I would like to take a few moments to share a few comments and thoughts that are on my mind.

I’m struggling to understand why the Port is not aligned with our community values we hold so dear. I care about our climate and our environment and the impact of products coming into our port for the sake of money. 

I do not agree with the confrontational behavior with police who are simply trying to protect the entire community. I understand these actions are based on fear and a sense of hopelessness with the system where they can’t make change. Where the people don’t trust the process, they will resort to other processes that will be more destructive and harmful overall. 

We are all facing uncertainty and concerned with where the county may be going. I am focusing on love and compassion for our community and a desire to be a steward of the land God gave us so it is available for all our children and grandchildren. 

I don’t want to be a part of this and I don’t want my department to be a scapegoat for the decisions the Port made or is making. They have choices and options should they choose to use them to eliminate proppants coming to the Port. 

Continued shipments will only erode more trust of our people and businesses and put our community at risk. If the Port has to accept any cargo, then price your services out of the market so vendors can go somewhere else where it is more acceptable. 

I’ve spent the last five years empowering our department to build trust and to build relationships with our community. I don’t want to lose these efforts. It angers me to have to put our officers in combat gear to face off with members of our community over something I don’t believe in myself. 

The Port is putting me between a rock and a hard spot and I don’t want to be part of it but I don’t have a choice to not protect our community. It is a mandate for police. 

I implore the Port to look for options that are compatible with our community values which have been stated by council. Part of the thing I talk with officers about is, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. 

Tonight, this is sage advice for the Port.

Thank you.

Cheers and applause from the audience erupted. It is unknown if council members knew what Chief Roberts was going to say.

Instead of responding to Chief Roberts’ remarks, or moving straight to a formal report about the raid, Mayor Cheryl Selby cheerfully moved on with the agenda, without comment, giving special recognition to Senator Karen Fraser. 

The missed opportunity caused some emotional whiplash, but was picked up somewhat when the agenda moved to public comment. Selby informed the audience that 33 people had signed up for public comment and not everyone would be able to speak at the first opportunity of the evening.

Keith Bausch, representing the members of ILWU Longshore Local 47, was the first to speak. About 10 other longshoremen were in the audience.

He expressed concern that had the protest been handled by law enforcement at the outset, the blockade never would have happened and the train could have left Olympia.

“Because of the delayed actions (by law enforcement), more radical elements were able to step in and take over the protest….We hope that plans will be put in place to stop future attempts to blockade rail movements before they get out of hand,” said Bausch.

Bausch said that the train was not going to North Dakota, that it is headed for Wyoming to be used for drilling natural gas wells.

“We need natural gas as an interim fuel to help wean ourselves off of coal and oil….There seems to be a belief that the fracking process is dependent on ceramic proppants. This is a false premise. The U.S. has an abundant supply of silica sand and the oil companies will use it if they can’t get proppants….Stopping this cargo here will have no impact on fracking in the U.S. whatsoever. However, it will impact the job opportunities and future registration for our local. It will reduce needed income for the Port of Olympia, it will also affect the ability of the port to market itself for future cargoes,” said Bausch.


Above: Chris van Daalen, in orange and yellow reflective jacket, observes the situation between law enforcement and protesters outside the Fish Tale Ale on Jefferson Street early Friday morning. Officers held the line while Union Pacific workers and law enforcement cleared the railroad tracks nearby.

Several speakers with first-hand experience visiting the blockade site said the protesters were polite, caring, and thoughtful.

Chris van Daalen spoke, saying he went down to the action to act as a peacekeeper. He was present during the raid, wearing a reflective vest. 

He said he is now involved with a new affinity group that will work to prevent future violence and find common ground and build community with the longshoremen, the police department, and others.

Pat Holm also spoke, and said she made many new friends there. She said that at age 80, she couldn’t risk taking direct action and block the tracks, but was appreciative of the young people who did. She said many protesters have bruises as a result of baton jabbing by officers.

“People were hurt. I feel really sad about that,” said Holm.

Christopher Donnelly spoke, saying that unnecessary force was used against the protesters and the city should ban the use of concussion grenades to suppress protests. He commented that law enforcement was taking surveillance video during the protest, but weren’t wearing body cameras during the raid.

After public comment, city manager Steve Hall spoke, reminding the audience that council unanimously passed a resolution in October in support of Standing Rock. Two years ago, council asked the Port of Olympia to reconsider cargo related to climate change.

Hall said he heard some things in public comment that were not true. He continued, making the following points, some based on his own observations: 

·        The Port has not yet changed its criteria for cargo.

·        Hall saw no injuries related to the clearing of the tracks – “this was my biggest fear that someone would get hurt.”

·        The Union Pacific railroad police asked for assistance from all local law enforcement (Washington State Patrol, Thurston County Sheriff's Department, and Olympia Police Department (OPD).

·        OPD’s main objective was to get people to leave the camp next to the rail lines so that Union Pacific special agents could clear the tracks. The city provided perimeter support so that more people did not get onto the tracks.

·        “In Olympia fashion, the Olympia police provided many, many opportunities for people to leave...Of the 30 or so campers, about 20 left without arrest. Hall observed patience and lack of aggressiveness by OPD. Considerable aggression, taunts and objectionable language by the protesters was observed.

·        Arrests were handled very carefully  with no scuffling that I observed.

·        The issue of the closed track closure is complex.

·        Representatives of the city and Port of Olympia communicated with the protesters on multiple days.

·        The city advised the protesters that other cargo and equipment was also blocked.

·        The city told the protesters that local businesses including L&E Bottling, two metal companies, the independent locomotive operator was trapped, and others were not only inconvenienced, but losing work and work hours.

·        The manager of L&E indicated she would have to lay off 25-30 people at the plant this past weekend due to lack of product getting to them. That means a lot of people who were counting on holiday wages will not receive them.

·        Council members Jim Cooper and Clark Gilman, Mayor Pro Tem Jones and Port Commissioner E.J. Zita each talked with protesters about options to resolve the issue. All ideas were rejected by protesters.

·        Hall spoke with members of the group on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday by phone about ideas to avoid law enforcement. “As often happens, the individuals said that no one speaks for the group and all act on their own accord.”

·        The city offered to let the camp stay near the tracks after the train cleared, spoke about a press conference with elected officials in solidarity with the protest, and spoke about joint statements about the fracking sands.

·        The individuals the city spoke to rejected all these ideas and indicated they would not talk any further.

·        The tracks were cleared on Friday morning.

Hall also said that on Friday afternoon, he and Mayor Selby met with the owner of Rainbow Ceramics and told him that he needs to understand our community and the concerns of our citizens.

Hall said the mayor asked the owner about the environmental impacts of the product. The answer, Hall said, was confusing.

“I told him that he should expect protests in the future. If tracks get blocked, the city will do everything we can to avoid use of law enforcement. We are in a difficult spot but we will continue to do our job,” concluded Hall.

“We are not done talking to the Port,” said Hall. 

For more information about the Port of Olympia, ceramic proppants, the blockade of the Union Pacific railroad tracks in downtown Olympia, go to https://janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.comand type key words in the search button.

The Port of Olympia website is www.portolympia.com

Editor's Note: The city issued a press release about the raid, conducted by multi-jurisdictional law enforcement, on November 18. An earlier version of this article said that the city had not issued a press release.