Residents Call for Public Forum on Port of Olympia's Weyerhaeuser Lease


Residents came before the Port of Olympia commission on Monday, demanding that a public forum be held before a lease is extended between the port and timber giant Weyerhaeuser.

But commissioners said after the meeting that the port's public process might provide enough opportunity for feedback without the need for a special meeting.

Weyerhaeuser has used a longtime lease to export logs through the port, mostly to Japan but to other countries in Asia as well. The current lease expires at the end of the year, but the company has the option to extend it another six or 10 years, said Commissioner Amy Evans Harding.

Before that extension happens, residents want to provide some input.

"We have not heard what terms are being negotiated," said Carla Wulfsberg of Tumwater.

She also questioned whether port staff were up to the task of working with the kind of attorneys Weyerhaeuser can hire and if it's "going to get the best outcomes for the port and the public."

"We feel the public is being kept in the dark," she said. "I ask that you schedule a public work session as soon as possible so the public can have an opportunity to talk to you in person."

Resident Lee Riner expressed similar concerns. Based on her examination of the current lease, Weyerhaeuser pays the port about $1 million a year. But Riner wants to know how that compares with the cost to operate the marine terminal used for those exports.

"Until these documents are discussed with the general public, a lot of us are in the dark and a lot of us have heartburn," Riner said.

"We ask for transparency, we ask for the truth," she said.

Commissioner Joe Downing said after the meeting that the lease pays the port about $100,000 a month and that it represents about two-thirds of marine terminal revenue. Of the port's major business units, the marine terminal generates by far the most revenue.

Downing said the lease is more than a ground lease, but also includes other fees, such as Weyerhaeuser's share of the stormwater treatment plant that serves the marine terminal.

He said the port is looking at every aspect of the lease and making sure it passes muster in areas where the port should be repaid or reimbursed.

"We understand the taxpayer's angst about making sure the marine terminal generates more revenue and pays for itself," he said.

But scheduling a public forum has not come up, Downing said. "People have asked for it, but it has not been suggested at this time," he said.

Both he and Evans Harding pointed out that if the option is exercised or the lease is amended, both would first come before the commission as an agenda advisory item for discussion, followed by action at a following meeting. Residents could comment at either or both meetings.

Commissioner Bob Iyall said he isn't sure the lease warrants a separate public hearing. "We always welcome public comment," he said.

As for when Weyerhaeuser might exercise its lease option, Iyall thinks it might happen this month. Evans Harding said she wasn't aware of anything pending.