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Smaller group has big plans as it readies for its D.C. mission

Area business and government leaders head for Washington, D.C., this week on what will be a tour de petite force.

Greater Spokane Incorporated President Rich Hadley says hard times halved the number of delegates to about 30 this year, the 10th consecutive in which GSI or its predecessors have marched on the national capital. It’s a long trip for a very intense effort.

In less than 48 hours, the group will meet with all four Idaho and Washington senators, four representatives, and as much as possible, members of their staffs, who are often the gatekeepers on issues and access.

They will also hook up with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and – coup of coups – both U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley. The delegation visits the Pentagon almost every year but has never scored meetings with the service’s top military and civilian commanders.

“That’s a big deal,” Hadley allows.

As is Fairchild Air Force Base, which has been a centerpiece of the Spokane economy while many other elements have changed or disappeared. While the Air Force prepares yet another round of bidding for new tankers, Fairchild’s aging KC-135s remain critical, and the base needs substantial upgrades to support their mission and that of whatever aircraft replaces them. The groups will seek funding for projects worth a total $84.6 million.

The proposed education tab runs to $66.7 million, with an Agricultural Research Station at Washington State University accounting for $48 million. Hadley says the project has won and lost funding in the past. A $10 million request for a Global Animal Health Initiative would supplement $25 million granted the university last year by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

If that seems like a lot, consider the potential cost in money and lives of an avian flu outbreak.

At the EPA, the group will be looking for $15 million for an Airway Heights water treatment facility, and nearly $1.8 million for a West Plains aquifer study. Hadley says delegation lobbying in the past helped get study and modeling of the all-important Rathdrum Prairie aquifer under way.

But the really big-ticket requests are transportation, thanks to the dovetailing of President Obama’s stimulus package and the pending reauthorization of the five-year Transportation Bill, when getting expensive, long-term projects on the federal priority list is critical, Hadley says.

Oh yeah, and Sen. Patty Murray chairs the Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations subcommittee.

A $300 million request for the North-South freeway dwarfs everything else on the group’s wish list, with lesser but still substantial amounts sought for U.S. 195 south of Spokane, Interstate 90 in the Spokane Valley, and elimination of railroad crossings in Spokane and Kootenai counties. If you drive, fly, take the bus, ride a bike, or just walk, there is something on this list for you.

As exhaustive as the list for consideration in the Capitol may be, Hadley says the items were scrubbed from even more ideas. How many organizations do you suppose think “Yes We Can” applies to them?

Not necessarily, at least when matching demand to the economic development needs that are the responsibility of GSI and area chambers of commerce.

“We are the convener,” Hadley says. “We have created the inventory of projects that are going to be advanced to the federal government.”

The list is long yet oh-so-short, difficult to fault yet eye-popping when the total cost is computed: $582.4 million.

The force may be petite, but the objectives are always majeur.

Bert Caldwell can be reached at (509) 459-5450 or