A backstory about possible military shipments through the Port of Olympia emerged Thursday night during a community gathering on the topic.
The meeting, which was organized by Port Commissioner E.J. Zita as a private citizen, was held at Traditions Cafe in downtown Olympia. About 20 people participated, a mix of concerned citizens and veterans.
Under questioning from the audience, Zita said that more than a month ago, Port of Olympia Executive Director Ed Galligan told commissioners that military cargo might come to the port this fall. In preparation, he asked the commissioners to make inquiries to the city of Olympia and to local police to ensure there would be adequate law enforcement available.
“I don’t think that’s the first thing we should do,” Zita said she told him at the time, adding that she also didn’t believe that was a port commissioner’s job.
Following that conversation, Zita contacted veterans and began to organize community meetings on the topic. She said her goal with the meetings has been to provide transparency about the port and its relationship with Joint Base Lewis-McChord, as well as to hear and share viewpoints about military cargo at the port.
“It brings us together and develops community,” she said about the meetings.
Zita also hopes to prevent the type of violence that erupted between protesters and police in November 2007 — the last time military cargo passed through the port. That led to a number of arrests, plus thousands of dollars in police protection and legal costs for the port.
“We don’t want to see people get hurt,” she said.
Those at the meeting pressed her for specifics, but she said she’s found it hard to get answers about military cargo.
“I have not had most of my questions of fact answered by the port administration,” she said.
One woman asked whether there was a notification process for the commission.
Zita said she has asked that the commission be notified of new cargoes at the port, but she’s not sure that would apply to military cargo.
Some suggested that the military shipments just be stopped, but Zita asked that their comments be more constructive. Zita acknowledged that she grew up in a military family and is married to a veteran.
Bev Bassett of Olympia raised concerns about military cargo and “depleted uranium.”
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website, the “U.S. military uses tank armor and some bullets made with depleted uranium to penetrate enemy armored vehicles, and began using DU on a large scale during the Gulf War.”
“DU has 40 percent less radioactivity, but the same chemical toxicity as natural uranium,” according to the VA website.
Zita also asked that those in the audience send letters to the port and letters to the editor of The Olympian, and that they attend port commission meetings and ask questions.
“Give them a heads-up that you care,” she said.
The port plans to hold an official meeting to discuss possible military shipments either Sept. 19 or Sept. 20. Zita said the port is having trouble finding a big enough venue.