50 tour Cherry Point, urge action to spur exports

Investment in rail is focus of a state legislative caucus

By Calvin Bratt
[email protected]

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 11.56.22 AM  BLAINE — If Whatcom County does not take advantage of its export opportunities, Canada and California certainly will step into the gap, said participants after a tour of the Cherry Point industrial area Dec. 9.
  Canada operates a “shot clock” requiring an answer within two years on applications for large industrial projects, said Herb Krohn, trades representative in the United Transportation Union, during a media briefing by telephone.
  Operating with public-private partnerships, Canada is “chomping at the bit” to increase West Coast trade with Asia, Krohn said. “If we don’t do it, these people are ready and willing to fill the gap,” he said, also citing Long Beach, California.
  Trains may still pass through Washington with their cargoes for export, but Washington just will not reap any benefits of them, he said.
  “We should be doing everything we can to ensure the success of the Cherry Point industrial area by investing in rail and the family-wage jobs it promotes,” said Krohn. “This state needs a multi-dimensional economic plan. Cherry Point could be a catalyst for real economic development, if we take the right steps soon.”
  Krohn was joined by state Reps. Matt Mannweller, R-Ellensburg, and Luis Moscoso, D-Mountlake Terrace, co-chairs of the Washington Legislative Rail Caucus, in a visit to Whatcom County hosted by the Keep Washington Competitive coalition of labor and business interests.
  Together, they especially emphasized the need for government to keep up rail infrastructure to assure a proper flow of goods and materials to markets.
   They discussed the economic importance of the Cherry Point deep-water port to the state’s trade and economic future, saying part of building a strong infrastructure is bolstering rail lines to move commodities throughout Washington.
  The three were part of a 50-person contingent — including also the Washington State Department of Commerce — that toured the northwest Washington industrial zone.
  “We should be looking for a variety of infrastructure investments, including rail, to bolster the economy outside of the immediate Puget Sound region,” Rep. Moscoso said. “Rail plays an integral role in our trade and export system. It provides hundreds of good family-wage jobs. We should not overlook the importance it plays in moving our agricultural goods from around the state to foreign markets. In fact, we should be looking for ways to enhance investments in our rail infrastructure.”
  Manweller called the tour “insightful,” noting outside efforts to enhance the area with private investments continue to be met with regulatory delays and challenges by the state.
  “Washington state’s regulatory climate is not helping manufacturers — in fact, it’s hastening their demise. Just look at the recent announcement by Alcoa and the idling of the smelter in Ferndale,” said Manweller. “Our regulatory processes are essentially facilitating a de-industrialization of our state’s economy.”
  BNSF Railway, the primary rail operator in Washington, continues to make significant investment in its system, Manweller said. Two things government could do to help is allow freight trains to go at faster speeds and to close more grade crossings with roads, he said.
  Rep. Vincent Buys, R-Lynden, also participated in the day’s tour.
  “We must do all we can to enhance and invest in the Cherry Point industrial area as a major economic catalyst for our county,” Buys said. “My focus right now is to find new ways to attract family-wage jobs to our county, and one way to do that is to invest in rail and in the Cherry Point industrial area.”
  Whatcom County, along with state Ecology and the federal Corps of Engineers, are in the middle of directing a drawn-out environmental review process leading to decisions on the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point.