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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Geiger Spur relocation idea boosted

A study says relocating the Geiger Spur rail line on the city’s West Plains would lead to more jobs and industrial development there.

The Spokane Area Economic Development Council commissioned the study, which cost $67,000, to predict what would happen if Spokane County moves the current line off of Fairchild Air Force Base and builds a new link to a feeder line three miles to the south.

Spokane County took over ownership of the rail line last year after BNSF Railway officials said it was too costly to operate. The line crosses through Fairchild and has become inefficient because of required security checks in and out of the base.

The study, produced by Spokane-area consulting firm Economic Development Northwest, concluded nearly 300 jobs would be at risk if officials don’t relocate the spur line. Those jobs belong to several West Plains companies near the line that depend on it for hauling heavy equipment.

“The payroll for the rail-dependent industries alone is $11 million,” the report said.

Also, the same study predicted that over time, access to the rail line could generate $10 million in annual tax revenue and a net impact of close to $300 million. Those figures were “conservative estimates” based on projected industrial use in that area, said Randy Barcus, who was hired to conduct impact analyis for the report. Barcus is the chief economist for Avista Corp.

Consultant Joe Tortorelli, who prepared the impact report, said three companies have said they would relocate if the spur line shuts down. They are Metals Fabrication Co., Western Rail and Seaport Steel.

The Spokane Area EDC will provide the impact study to state legislators and to the federal Economic Development Administration as Spokane County tries to find money to undertake the relocation.

So far, the state has set aside $3.5 million for the project, which officials say will likely cost closer to $7 million to complete. The project has two phases: replacing older BNSF line between Fairchild and Hayford Road in Airway Heights with heavier-gauge line; and adding a new three-mile line from McFarlane Road south to the Palouse River & Coulee City Railroad line.

Another $500,000 has been set aside by the Department of Defense to assist the relocation of line outside Fairchild.

The major costs would involve acquiring land for the new three-mile stretch, building the new spur line, rebuilding the older line and mitigating impacts on wetlands in the area, said Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke.

In addition to saving current jobs, the study said the line would open for development another 900 acres of land east of the air base and west of Airway Heights.

“That land is the best area we have for large-parcel development,” said Tortorelli. “It’s ideally suited for the transportation industry” if it has rail service, he said.

Miekle said the study would be valuable in asking the state for an extra $1.5 million from the current Legislature. Beyond that, officials hope to land federal money from both the EDA and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s rail line projects fund. Another possibility is seeking money through the state’s Community, Trade and Economic Development Department, said Tortorelli.

None of the earlier-approved $3.5 million state money is in hand, however, Mielke noted. Though getting that $3.5 million is not a done deal, he said state legislators regard transportation allocations from previous sessions as strong commitments.

He’s not as sure that the added $1.5 million will be found this session, with the state facing a budget deficit of $2 billion. “We will continue to seek additional funds. We’re committed to making it happen.”

If the funds look likely, the goal is to start turning dirt by the end of 2005 with most of the work completed by 2006.

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