By Rolf Boone / The Olympian
There was consensus — and then there wasn’t — for a renaming proposal that was brought before the Port of Olympia commission on Monday.
By the end of the discussion, the commission appeared to agree on having a port naming team evaluate a proposal to rename the port’s Marine Drive — the tree-lined street that runs along the west shoreline of East Bay — after Billy Frank Jr., the influential and legendary Nisqually tribal member who died in 2014.
Beyond that, it was unclear how the proposal might advance.
The proposal was submitted in writing before Monday’s meeting and was explained in person by Olympia City Councilman Nathaniel Jones.
Jones said that letters of support for the idea are forthcoming from the Squaxin Island and Nisqually tribes, as well from the city of Olympia. The idea is to rename the street in time for a commemorative celebration tied to Indigenous Peoples Day, which is observed in early October on what is also known as Columbus Day.
“The proposal is to recognize the life of Billy Frank Jr. and to acknowledge his impact nationally and internationally on Indian treaty rights and environmental stewardship,” Jones said.
“You have prepared a park-like setting there,” Jones said about Marine Drive. “It’s a lovely spot and appropriate for this recognition.”
However, the port has a surprisingly ironclad naming policy that the proposal doesn’t comply with. Among the requirements: the person has to have been dead for at least 20 years, or must have made a significant property or monetary contribution to the port.
The policy also has a provision that a street can have two names — its original name and a secondary one.
Jones asked that the provisions be waived, including the secondary labeling. “It’s a lesser-level of recognition,” he said.
After Jones pitched the idea, Commissioner E.J. Zita welcomed it.
“It’s a good time for this sort of gesture in our country because of increasing racism and violence,” she said. “If we can come together around a peaceful and honorary gesture like this, I think it’s good for all of us.”
Commissioner Bill McGregor and Commissioner Joe Downing, who participated in the meeting by phone, expressed support for the renaming.
“My gut reaction is that I’m very favorable to the idea,” Downing said.
Executive Director Ed Galligan, who said he has been in contact with Olympia City Manager Steve Hall, told the commission that port staff were ready to run with the proposal and meet the October deadline.
“We will make it happen,” Galligan said.
But each time Zita tried to recap the discussion and set a direction for next steps, the more resistant McGregor and Downing seemed to become. One of their main concerns was that the port’s naming policy calls for a two-month public comment process that they wouldn’t be able to meet.
McGregor and Downing said the port has been “beaten up” for not providing enough public comment in the past.
“I’m not sure we can shortchange the public comment process,” Downing said. “I’m not optimistic about getting it done by October.”
McGregor, too, said he didn’t want to step outside the process and get hammered by the public.
Zita pushed to streamline the process.
Downing remained resistant.
“We’re in agreement to crank up the naming review team,” he said. “Beyond that, I don’t have any interest in going any further with this.”
Olympia resident Richard Wolf spoke out against the proposal, largely because it would sidestep so many of the port’s naming requirements. He said the city-owned street that runs in front of the LOTT Clean Water Alliance should be renamed instead.
“It relates to salmon and Puget Sound clean water, both of which are two of Billy Frank Jr.’s main efforts,” he said.