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Sun., Sept. 22, 2013, midnight

Special to The Spokesman-Review: Coal export projects benefit all of us

We are advocates for trade in Eastern Washington. We have participated in trade missions, spoken on behalf of reasonable regulations and worked to make sure that our commodities get a fair shake at trading with international partners.

We believe our efforts have been rewarded. Every year we see local companies expanding their international reach – prompting our export numbers upward and increasing the importance of trade in the Spokane area.

The Spokane area brings a lot of goods to market. From the wheat fields of the Palouse to our growing aerospace sector to the tech companies of Liberty Lake, we produce and export a unique mix of goods. In Spokane alone, exports total approximately $873 million annually, and in the 5th Congressional District more than 23,000 jobs are directly connected to Spokane exporters.

We are fortunate to be located in a state that is geographically primed for trade. Combined, the ports along the Washington coast make up the third largest shipping port in the United States, making our proximity to the coast one of the biggest contributors to our success.

Trade and export issues matter a lot to us in Spokane, especially when those issues relate to our access to the coast. We cannot think of a better and more relevant example than the proposed Northwest coal export projects. There are three projects being proposed – in Longview, Bellingham and Boardman, Ore. One of the many legacies these projects will leave is more capacity for all types of export products. Trade supporters look at the coal export projects as opportunities to make trade faster and more efficient.

Despite the clear benefits of the export terminals, there are people who question the logic of supporting infrastructure projects without physical sites in Spokane. We say that time and again Eastern Washington has risen to support the greater good for our state, and we will continue to do so. If you’ll forgive us a common phrase, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Our region’s export-based businesses will benefit from a balanced approach to trade – an approach that is driven by data and a continual focus on expanding opportunity. That’s reason enough to offer our support of these projects.

Besides the obvious trade benefits, the Millennium Bulk Terminals project in Longview will be a fantastic boon to a region that is experiencing unemployment at greater than 10 percent. The project has committed to investing millions in private money that will ultimately make its way to local schools, aging roads and bridges and public safety priorities – all badly needed.

In addition to the private investment generated through the building and construction of the terminals, Millennium is working with state and federal officials to clean up an old aluminum smelter site along the river and is committed to building and operating an environmentally responsible world-class port facility. Here in Spokane, we know the challenge of bringing damaged industrial sites back to environmentally sound conditions, and we applaud the project for choosing a site that requires mitigation and restoration. We think this speaks to the way Millennium plans to operate.

Some may raise concerns about coal dust from passing trains. But, according to the Spokane Clean Air Agency, any possible environmental health impacts would result from loading and unloading coal commodities, neither of which will happen in Spokane, but in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming.

As part of the public comment process for the Millennium Bulk Terminals project in Longview, the Department of Ecology and Cowlitz County recently announced a series of public meetings to be held throughout the state. One of the meetings will occur this Wednesday at the Spokane Convention Center, from 5-8 p.m.

Combined, the three projects will create thousands of jobs and millions in tax dollars while paving the way for other exports – something we care a lot about in Spokane. We are excited for the possibility of more trade and jobs in Washington state and look forward to adding our support as for the Millennium Project at Wednesday’s public comment session. We are champions for a secure future for our children and grandchildren, and trade is a significant share of that future. We feel compelled to voice our support publicly and with one voice, and we hope that by doing so others will join us.

Janet Schmidlkofer is president of K&N Electric and serves on the boards of the International Trade Association and Greater SpokaneIncorporated. Michael Senske is president and CEO of Pearson Packaging and is chair-elect of Greater Spokane Incorporated.

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