Guest opinion: Being a link good for city
The railroads gave rise to our great city. When the Northern Pacific Railway was completed in 1881, about 1,000 people called Spokane home. The arrival of the railroads raised the city’s population to almost 20,000 nine years later, and more than 100,000 two decades later. Thanks to the successful railway investments made by rail companies and Spokane’s founding fathers, our city became the commercial center of the Inland Northwest and attracted European settlement and businesses to our region.
Today, the Spokane region is uniquely positioned, with two Class I railroads, the Interstate 90 corridor, an extensive fiber network, and the Spokane International Airport to move goods and services to Pacific Coast ports, and on to international markets. We have all of the elements to be the hub where manufactured goods; timber, mining and agricultural products; and consumer goods can be stored, transloaded from one mode to another, and distributed to national and world markets.
This intermodal capacity makes our region more competitive for jobs and business development. It is, in fact, why North Idaho and Eastern Washington business and civic leaders have invested funds to create the Inland Pacific Hub – a development and infrastructure plan to increase capacity to move more freight, currently 4.6 million tons valued at $466.8 billion annually, into and through our region.
The efficient and timely movement of goods to markets is fundamental to success in a competitive world.
This brings us to the subject of coal trains, which have long been traveling through Spokane. World demand for energy sources is resulting in planned transport of coal on BNSF trains from the Wyoming and Montana coal fields through Spokane to proposed port facilities on the Oregon and Washington coasts. The Washington facilities would bring much-needed jobs to our state and would promote international trade, the latter of which has had a positive impact on our nation’s trade balance.
Greater Spokane Incorporated supports federally regulated interstate commerce and international trade, and is a member of the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports. The Alliance supports the construction of the Gateway Pacific Terminal, which will be undergoing an environmental impact study that – when finalized – will have incorporated all public and agency comments and proposed mitigation. The Gateway Pacific Terminal would create an estimated 3,500 to 4,400 new jobs during construction, and 300-400 permanent family wage jobs that will generate an estimated $74 million to $92 million in state and local revenues
Meetings are being held to get feedback to develop the scope of analysis for the draft EIS. We favor a single EIS on the proposed terminal site, and not a programmatic EIS, which would be area-wide. An area-wide analysis could establish a precedent that could be harmful to the shipment of other commodities and the development of other transportation projects that benefit our region, state and country. If future railway projects have to undergo an extensive EIS process, railroad companies might not even bother building those projects in our state.
The coal trains that already travel through Spokane carry a surfactant on the coal loads, and there haven’t been any reported problems with those shipments. Let’s not forget that it is also in the best interest of rail companies to monitor coal dust, since it can be detrimental to the rail lines. BNSF has taken extra measures to reduce coal dust by issuing a new rule that requires companies shipping coal to implement measures that will further reduce the potential for coal dusting by at least 85 percent.
The rules are already in place to maintain a quality environment. It is also important to know that agencies such as the Northwest Clean Air Agency, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, and the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency had never received a coal dust complaint until after the Gateway Pacific Terminal indicated it would export coal.
As a stakeholder, we will work to ensure that rail traffic is protected, that at-grade crossing conflicts are minimized, and that water and air quality are maintained.
Throughout our history, this region’s economy has benefited from the rail, interstate and air transportation network that links us to the world. We need to keep it that way.
Rich Hadley is president and chief executive officer of Greater Spokane Incorporated.