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Special to The Spokesman-Review: Ozzie D. Knezovich

Hundreds of people came to the Spokane County Fairgrounds last winter to talk about the issue of coal exports.  It was a tough meeting for some. Neighbors find themselves on different sides, and emotions run high. 

I was proud of the group that day. No matter how strongly people felt, they listened to others. In fact, plenty of them came and talked to me afterward about their concerns. I can tell you that throughout the years I’ve stood at the back of many meeting rooms and watched the tough issues play out. Each time, I walk out of the room amid neighbors and friends who were able to have a tough conversation. This is a good thing. 

That’s what makes me concerned today. My commitment as sheriff of Spokane County is to communitywide safety and security. I take it seriously when the well-being of my community is threatened. Some of you might have heard the call for civil disobedience from environmentalist Bill McKibben. McKibben hails from Vermont, but he has been spending time in the Northwest a lot lately to talk about coal exports. In fact, while in Oregon, he even encouraged opponents of coal exports to take the law into their own hands. What I want McKibben to know is that here in the Northwest, we have a long history of dealing with contentious issues without lawbreaking or disorder. 

The Northwest way is heavy on process and discussion but we always manage to emerge from disagreement as neighbors and friends. When opponents of the proposed coal-export terminals come here to encourage us to behave in a way that is counter to our nature, I would ask them to consider that here in the Northwest we value public safety in our process regardless of the issue.

As a law enforcement officer, I believe in working to maintain safety as we talk about these important issues. No matter where people stand on coal exports, we can rely on our shared history of dealing with these issues reasonably. Dialogue and debate are a wonderful part of our shared ethos. Citizen vigilantism is not. 

These projects offer us a new path to economic growth in our region. The projects, located in Boardman, Ore., and Longview and Bellingham, would create thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue. Yes, coal would be exported, but so would other products. And in the years to come, increased export capacity stands to benefit those who care about a variety of commodities, including agriculture. And the projects are critical in these rural communities.

Another thing opponents have been saying is that these export terminals would create burdensome train delays in the region, and they even imply the train traffic will hamper first responders. I just want to set the record straight here and let people know that we have a long history of working with the railroads. We can work with them to make sure any increase in rail traffic happens in a way that leaves first responders able to do their jobs with speed and efficiency. 

Really, many of those who are trying to stop the export terminals are concerned about an increase in rail. But an increase in rail is a good thing for the Northwest. It means more products are moving, more exports are going out and trade is on the rise. In a state in which four out of 10 jobs are tied to trade, these are all good things we need to support. Maybe that’s why a recent survey showed the projects have 2-to-1 support in the region, with 60 percent of those surveyed saying they support the proposed facilities.

I am excited for the possibility of more trade and jobs in Washington. As a public servant, a father, a veteran, and a graduate of a state college, I know the benefit of tax dollars resulting from private investment. It means safer communities, better care for veterans, investment in infrastructure and money for cash-strapped schools. That is not a bad thing in my book.

Ozzie Knezovich is the Spokane County sheriff.


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