Port of Olympia District 2

Jessie Simmons vs. Bob Iyall

WATCH: League of Women Voters candidate forum.

Bob Iyall

Raised: $43,936

Spent: $38,413.20

Campaign information: WebsiteFacebook

Full list of contributions and expenditures.

What does the Port of Olympia do that directly benefits Thurston County residents who pay more than $6 million annually for its operations? What should it be doing that it is not doing already, or not doing in order to save money?

The Port does provide jobs to residents in Thurston County through direct and indirect methods. The Port hosts/sponsors recreational events in the county and provides security patrols on Budd Inlet. The Purpose of the Port is to create economic development opportunities throughout Thurston County and, judging by the Port’s stated financials, falls short of providing benefits to all residents of Thurston County. About 34% of the Port’s annual budget includes revenue from property taxes, paid by all Thurston County residents who own property. The tax money is to be used for debt service and environmental cleanup. The Port’s website states that no tax money goes to support operations however, tax money that goes to debt service clearly includes equipment used by operations. I believe that operations should be fully self-sufficient and capital investments in equipment should be funded through operational funds, not tax dollars. I plan to minimize the tax burden on residents and use what is collected to help heal and protect our local environment, especially our Puget Sound waters and local rivers.

To save money, the Port should be maximizing efficiencies in current operations and critically analyzing future investments. Having a due diligence process to thoughtfully consider each proposed project is essential to determine alignment with the Port’s purpose, benefits to residents, environmental impacts, and financial feasibility. 

As an example of maximizing operational efficiencies, the Marine Terminal invested in a new crane several years ago. The feasibility study provided to the Commissioners indicated crane usage at 1000 hours per year to reach a break-even point. The actual crane usage has been approximately 20 hours per year. I have enough experience with cranes to know that it is an expensive piece of equipment and underutilization is the critical mistake that can ruin a project or business. 

Would you support a property tax increase for the Port? Why or why not?

I would not support a property tax increase for the Port. I believe the Port operations should be self-supporting. Tax revenue should be minimized and only be used to heal and protect the local environment. The Port should use a portion of the tax revenue to prepare for the effects of climate change, a rising sea level, and maintenance costs associated with impacts related to the removal of the 5th Ave. dam.

Relationships among the Port of Olympia commissioners over the past eight years could be described as fractious. If elected, what do you personally plan to do to ensure that commissioners treat each other with dignity and respect?

I have been very successful in building a strong, sustainable economy for our Nisqually Tribe, where I am a member. As CEO of The Medicine Creek Enterprise Corporation, I have been liaison to our Board of Directors, Tribal Leadership, and the members to ensure the organization is fulfilling the purpose and vision of the organization. Success is directly related to the relationships built along the way. I take pride in the relationships we have built with suppliers, vendors, leadership, and consumers to ensure each benefit from our interactions. This approach to success will easily transfer to the Commissioner position, where thoughtful consideration for each other’s opinions, regarding issues of the Port, will be paramount to the Port’s success.

Current Port commissioners have declined to take a position on any of the options regarding the future of Capitol Lake: No action, return to an estuary, managing the lake to restore recreational and other uses, or a hybrid approach. Which alternative do you favor and why? What challenges do you see presented by the alternative you chose?

The Port should take a position on the Capital Lake options. I prefer the estuary option. The removal of the 5th Ave. dam is critical to healing our local marine eco-system which includes salmon recovery, pollution cleanup efforts, and restoring the Kelp Forests, just to name a few things. 

The Estuary option is the least expensive to implement but does create maintenance expense and challenges for the future. The Port should be planning, with local governments including Tribal governments, local community and environmental groups, and Federal agencies like the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to prepare for the healthy future of Budd Inlet. 

What responsibility does the Port have in working with other local governments in addressing the county’s need for housing for unhoused/marginally housed individuals? Would you be willing to lease Port land to a non-profit for use as a site for motorhomes or a site similar to the mitigation site in downtown Olympia?

The Port’s purpose is to create economic development opportunities in Thurston County. As a community member affordable housing is important to all of us. The Port can and should be a part of the solution. Building a strong sustainable economy means to support locally owned businesses that create living wage jobs to residents. Part of supporting local businesses is promoting tourism to attract outside revenues to our local economy. Supporting tourism includes presenting our local communities in the best light possible which also means finding a solution to the many people who need a permanent housing solution. The Port is the largest landowner in Thurston County and should consider leasing to non-profits for temporary solutions however, the goal should be to find a permanent solution. We have been considering solutions for a very long time and it would be careless of me to say I know exactly what needs to happen. We all need to work together for the best solution.


Jessie Simmons

Raised: $32,648

Spent: $27,294

Campaign information, including endorsements: WebsiteFacebook

Full list of contributions and expenditures.

What does the Port of Olympia do that directly benefits Thurston County residents who pay more than $6 million annually for its operations? What should it be doing that it is not doing already, or not doing in order to save money?

The Port of Olympia impacts the community in multiple ways. First, most of us see the Port as a waterfront operation where we export items like logs, cattle, and more. We sometimes see the deep-water berths occupied by ships, which generates revenue for the Port while they are there. It is true that the waterfront operations are an essential piece of what the Port does to benefit our community. The waterfront operations sustain good family wage jobs in the trades like the local machinists, the Longshore, and the maritime industry. Yet, the Port also is responsible for an airport, a marina, and a vast amount of real estate and investments throughout the county. The opportunities to utilize these assets and shape the future of our community are exponential. The Port should be intentional about shaping this future and putting the community in a place where we are prepared for the future. One example of a small step in that direction is the small cities grant that they offer to help shape the infrastructure of communities across South County. More investment in things like this, development for small and local businesses around the airport and on the waterfront and attracting a diversity of lines of business at the Marine Terminal should be the path forward. Being proactive in this mission will do a couple of significant things including creating more local opportunity for the inevitable growth we face and expanding the tax base to relieve the tax burden on the local property owners. The Port can do this by first building on their partnerships like the relationships with the Hand’s on Children’s Museum and the Puget Sound Estuarium and helping expand a potential museum district through the expansions that both of these entities seek. The Port can also diversify and grow operations at the Marine Terminal and seek new lines of business in break-bulk cargo like rice, grain, soy, and wheat, and seeking finished products to export. And they can put the properties around the airport to use by providing infrastructure for everything from small and local business opportunities to training space for trade apprenticeships, and other innovative ideas. The bottom line is that the county does benefit in several ways currently from their investment in the Port of Olympia, but there is so much more opportunity to grow this benefit.

Would you support a property tax increase for the Port? Why or why not?

No. I believe that working folks in our community are faced with an unfair share of the tax burden. Folks are trying to get by and take care of their families. In my view, the opportunity to expand the tax base is there. We just have to envision a Port that truly is a working asset for the community. The Port is meant to be an economic driver for the community and should be focused on creating economic opportunity first. The Port should be actively seeking ways to generate revenue including growing operations at the Marine Terminal, seeking local partners to utilize the properties they own like the Hand’s on Children’s Museum, the Puget Sound Estuarium, local and small business partners, and even trade organizations that could build onto their training programs and grow membership and interest in the world of skilled labor. The Port should be partnering with the construction trades and creating infrastructure that attracts new local and small business opportunities. They should be looking toward some opportunities for tourism dollars like creating a museum district that not only generates revenue but provides educational opportunities for the community and the greater region. The truth is that if your raising taxes on working people, you are simply trying to maintain. I firmly believe the Port of Olympia can do more than maintain. It can become a part of the community that combines the opportunity for good family wage jobs, family recreation, and a place to call home. 

Relationships among the Port of Olympia commissioners over the past eight years could be described as fractious. If elected, what do you personally plan to do to ensure that commissioners treat each other with dignity and respect?

I speak to this in my original message that I put out for the campaign to some extent when I expand on “my philosophy.” It starts with an understanding that we all have different opinions about what is the best future for the Port of Olympia and the greater community. The truth is that nobody has a monopoly on good ideas, and none of the issues facing the Port are truly black and white issues. So, I will seek to build productive relationships with my fellow Port commissioners by listening more than I speak. By showing them the respect of consideration for their ideas and giving their ideas the credibility they deserve. I am not opposed to dissent by any means. In fact, a good thorough debate will always give us a better result than simply going along to get along. However, I will also seek to move forward with the decisions of the commission together. I believe that when a decision is made by the majority of the commission it is then the responsibility of every commissioner to ensure that they find the best way forward through best practices and accountability measures. Each of us are coming to the commission with different backgrounds and life experiences, and each of us has valid concerns and vision about what the Port should be. So, we owe each other the space to express that in every decision that we make. I look forward to lively discussion and helping the Port grow together. 

Current Port commissioners have declined to take a position on any of the options regarding the future of Capitol Lake: No action, return to an estuary, managing the lake to restore recreational and other uses, or a hybrid approach. Which alternative do you favor and why? What challenges do you see presented by the alternative you chose?

I think that the current Port commissioners have taken the correct stance. The Port commission and other stakeholders on the waterfront are concerned about the viability of operations going forward depending on the choice that is made on this issue. That is the baseline for their approach to not being firmly behind any of the available choices on this potential project. There are, at this moment, pieces of the project that remain in question. First, the environmental impact on Budd Inlet. While the EIS does say that water quality will improve both chemically and aesthetically, it also makes clear that the chemical changes are “minimal.” In fact, it clearly shows that dissolved oxygen levels will still not meet the state or EPA standards for salmon to flourish. So, my question is are any of the project alternatives the best plan and can we make changes to improve the situation for the salmon even more and meet the standards set by the state and the EPA? Secondly, and probably the biggest missing piece, is the fact that the EIS does not identify a dedicated funding source for the important issue of dredging and sediment management. To be fair, the EIS is narrowly focused on the project alternatives and not designed to identify such funding. And there is currently a work group working on this very issue that I am confident will give us all the facts. So, the question remains, how are we going to pay for it and who is responsible? Ultimately, any chosen alternative is going to impact operations at the Port. And the future of the Port will depend on thorough dredging and sediment management operations. I want to ensure that we put the operations of the Port and the livelihoods of those who depend on the Port for work at the top of mind. And I will not choose an alternative that forces the shutdown of operations at the Marine Terminal and kills the good family wage jobs at the Port and the opportunity to create more. In addition, we also must consider the vulnerability that shutting down the Marine Terminal would leave us with. In the case of a natural disaster like a volcanic eruption, an earthquake, or a flood, it is essential that we have emergency response access through the waterfront. 

What responsibility does the Port have in working with other local governments in addressing the county’s need for housing for unhoused/marginally housed individuals? Would you be willing to lease Port land to a non-profit for use as a site for motorhomes or a site similar to the mitigation site in downtown Olympia?

 There is a major valuable asset that the Port of Olympia has throughout the community. That asset is land. I do believe the Port could be a partner with several organizations and local governments across the county trying to address the issue of houselessness. What I do not want to see is more temporary measures that sustain a sense of desperation within the houseless community and a sense of fear and anger in the wider community. So, while some mitigation is important for immediate relief from houselessness, I want to visualize the rest of the solution. I believe we have the opportunity to provide many alternatives to what some see as a “tent city.” We merely have to look at current examples. For example, the plan to convert the hotel in Tumwater into low-income housing for seniors (a surprising demographic consistently on the verge of houselessness because of limited income). And another example could be in the tiny home communities like Quixote Village. The fact is that we need all types of housing. Not just tents and mitigation sites, but actual housing that creates a base for folks to rebuild their lives, feel some stability, and reinvest in being a productive and active part of the community. The Port should absolutely be partnering with local governments and nonprofit organizations to lease land for housing alternatives, and there is an opportunity to create infrastructure that provides stability, pride, and good family wage jobs. I also want to add that it is not just our responsibility to provide support for the houseless community, but we should also include them in their success. I see an opportunity for an entire population to gain not only a place to live, but skills and employment as well. I would like to see us extend a hand to the houseless community and provide apprenticeship opportunities and employment for those who would seek it. In my day job, I work with low-income individuals who are often facing obstacles to housing and provide them the opportunity for a solution in a good paying skilled trade. We should be reaching out to the houseless here in our community and providing them the opportunity to literally build their own future. 

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By Mindy Chambers

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