Retired astronaut in Port Ludlow among Puget Sound Legacy recipients
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Jeff Chew/Peninsula Daily News
Retired astronaut John Fabian today looks out over the blue horizon of Hood Canal at the boat ramp near his Shine Road home in Shine.

By Jeff Chew
Peninsula Daily News

PORT LUDLOW -- Retired astronaut John Fabian's view of Earth from the Challenger space shuttle served as a window for a new environmental awareness.

That's what happens to space travelers, said the Port Ludlow man who flew 98 orbits during his first mission in 1983 and 112 the second mission in 1985.

"I don't know any person who has flown in space who hasn't come home more environmentally aware," said Fabian, 71.

"I'm not talking about tree huggers here. I'm talking about conservatives who come back feeling that way."

Fabian, who co-founded the Hood Canal Coalition in 2002, will be honored during a 7:30 a.m. May 18 breakfast by the People for Puget Sound for his environmental efforts as one of three recipients of the group's 2010 Warren G. Magnuson Puget Sound Legacy Awards.

U.S. Rep Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, who represents the North Olympic Peninsula in the 6th Congressional District, and Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge manager Jean Takekwa also will be honored at the fifth annual New Day for Puget Sound ceremony at the Westin Seattle Hotel.

Dicks will be honored "for being a lifelong friend of Puget Sound and for advocating and building federal support for Puget Sound protection and recovery," the group said in a prepared statement.

"John Fabian and the Hood Canal Coalition are recognized for their persistent and courageous efforts to protect the shoreline and critical habitats of Hood Canal from the development of gravel export dock near Shine, in Jefferson County," People For Puget Sound said.

The Puget Sound Legacy Award honors the late U.S. senator from Washington, Warren G. Magnuson, who died in 1989, for pursuing legislation that protected marine mammals and prohibited supertankers from entering Puget Sound.

Fabian's passion for the Earth was born off of it.

"It's incredibly beautiful," he said of seeing Earth from space.

"It's incredibly fragile."

In 1998, that led Fabian back home to Washington state and its evergreen beauty. The retired NASA astronaut and Air Force officer lives on Shine Road overlooking the fjord he loves so well -- Hood Canal.


The Hood Canal Coalition was founded amid fears of the industrializaton of the canal in opposition to the proposed Thorndyke Resource pit-to-pier project, then proposed by Fred Hill Materials, now known as Thorndyke Resources.

Thorndyke has proposed a four-mile-long conveyor belt to move gravel from the extraction area near the former Fred Hill Materials shine pit to a 1,000-foot pier at Hood Canal where it would be loaded on barges for shipping.

The site would be located south of Fabian's home, out of his sight but not out of his mind should barges run past his shoreline view.

He worries that those barges, which would pass through Hood Canal Bridge, pose a serious marine safety threat.

The Hood Canal Coalition also opposes a plan to expand gravel extraction at the Thorndyke Resource's Shine site.

The coalition was founded during a meeting of about 20 people, Fabian said. It has since grown to about 4,000 members, he said, with tribes, community groups, political parties and environmental groups represented.

Fabian said he was a bit embarrassed to accept the award because so many others are involved in the coalition, including other founding members such as attorney Larry Mayes of Renton and Jay Newkirk of Kitsap County.

No comment

Doug Weese, Thorndyke Resources spokesman, said last week that the company working to bring the pit-to-pier project to Hood Canal chose not to comment about Fabian's award.

Fabian said the Hood Canal Coalition has exhausted its court battle against the pit-to-pier project.

"We went the limit that we could go in court, but at the same time we said we're serious about stopping the project," Fabian said, adding there would likely be no more court battle.

A Washington State Court of Appeals ruling in November upheld then-Fred Hill Materials' right to expand gravel mining at its site south of state Highway 104.

The decision upheld a visiting Kitsap County Superior Court judge's ruling.

Judge Anna Laurie a year ago affirmed a 2004 Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board finding that a Jefferson County-approved 690-acre mineral resource land overlay for Fred Hill Materials complies with the state Growth Management Act.

Regents' post

Fabian said his fight against the pit-to-pier project has not come without a political price.

Gov. Chris Gregoire appointed Fabian to the Washington State University Board of Regents in October 2004.

He was the first regents appointee to have received the regents' Distinguished Alumnus Award, which he won in 1983.

Fabian, who grew up in Pullman and was a WSU alumnus, resigned May 9, 2005, from the board after serving just six months of a six-year term.

"My appointment to the board of regents ended due to a disagreement with the unions," Fabian said. He was reluctant to talk about it at the time, saying it would only serve to "open a can of worms."

Fabian had called union officials "stupid" and "ignorant" for their support of the Fred Hill Materials proposed pit-to-pier project, said Rick Bender, Washington State Labor Council president, who served in the state Legislature from 1973 to 1991 -- 10 years in the House and eight in the Senate.

Fred Hill Materials was a union company and Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, is the largest labor organization in the state, representing more than 430,000 rank-and-file union members at the time.

Fabian said Gov. Chris Gregoire, whose election was facing a recount at the time and needed union support, was unable to come to his aid.

"You take the personal shots to do the job," he said.

Nothing personal

He insists his battle today against the pit-to-pier project is not personal.

"This project has nothing to do with my home or lifestyle. What is does is threaten the environment of Hood Canal," he said.

Fabian joked that he sees himself as the "unelected, unappointed and reluctant leader of Hood Canal Coalition."

"I didn't come home to the state of Washington to get into an environmental fight," he added.

Fabian said he has no fear of continuing the battle for Hood Canal, but he wants to choose his own fights with Thorndyke.

"I flew 90 combat missions [during the Vietnam War] and have flown on top of two rockets and been married to the same woman for 48 years," he said with a smile. "So I don't scare too well."

While Fabian said he acted as Jefferson County Democrats chairman during a rough patch in its leadership about five years ago, he has no further political ambitions and no plans to run for office.

Born in Goosecreek, Texas, Fabian was commissioned into the Air Force upon graduation from WSU in 1962, and served at the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, before attending flight training at Williams Air Force Base, Ariz., and then five years as a KC-135 pilot at Wurtsmith Air Force Base, Mich.

Following additional graduate work at the University of Washington, he served four years on the faculty of the Aeronautics Department at the USAF Academy in Colorado. He has logged 4,000 hours flying time, including 3,400 hours in jet aircraft.

Fabian said NASA wanted him to launch into two more missions but his wife, Donna -- who has also worked for NASA as a contractor for the Mars program -- told him that was all the family could take.

Fabian left NASA on Jan. 1, 1986, to become director of space, deputy chief of staff, plans and operations, at Air Force headquarters.

He retired as a colonel from the U.S. Air Force in June 1987 and joined Analytic Services Inc. a nonprofit aerospace professional services firm in Arlington, Va.

He still travels to John F. Kennedy Space Center where he speaks to visitors on a rotating schedule with other former NASA astronauts, who talk about the space program's past and the future.

"We have an old astronaut there every day to talk to them and sometimes I'm in the barrel," he said.

"It bothers me that we've gotten where we are."

Where NASA is today is uncertain, with the Obama administration making it clear that the president believes the future of space rests with the private sector, not the space agency.

Dreams of visiting the moon once again and going to Mars are not funded.

"The agency robbed Peter to pay Paul to move the program forward, but it wasn't fast," Fabian lamented, with rocket-building no longer in the hands of NASA.

His wife, Donna's pickup truck sports a license plate, "Go4Mars," while Fabian, who likes the speed of flight, has "MACH25" on his plate.

"That's 18,000 miles per hour!" he shouted with a chuckle while looking out over the deep, blue waters of Hood Canal.


Port Townsend-Jefferson County Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at

Last modified: May 09. 2010 1:49AM
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