Support Family Wage Jobsby Editorial Board
The Daily News, June 18, 2015
Lately many letters to the editor have been focused on the proposed oil refinery at the Port of Longview. Also, last weekend the editorial page featured a guest column about SR432 and how any improvements would just benefit Millennium Bulk Terminals.
As it relates to the port, some of the recent letters talk about finding something cleaner -- or more specifically, something not related to fossil fuels -- to help grow business. Some question why the Port of Longview did not get some of the container business the Port of Portland recently lost. Another common theme to the letters about the port is "we can do better".
From our perspective these are reasonable questions, but lack some insights we hope to provide.
The Port of Longview is most likely to grow as individual markets grow. For example, when the wind turbine segment was growing our port was the beneficiary of some business. With wind farms mostly built out, and no new ones on the horizon, this segment doesn't look like an opportunity for growth. Where the markets have high potential return on investment right now is in fossil fuels, which is why investors keep pitching them to the port.
When a liquid propane plant was proposed, investors had been looking up and down the West Coast for sites that would meet their needs. Longview was one of a handful of possible locations due to deep water access, port space for development and ready access to Asian markets. If you don't want to see fossil fuel development from the port, where will future port business come from?
The Port of Longview likely will never get much container business. The container market is in the process of moving to Ultra Large Container Ships, called ULCS's, which require berth and crane specifications Longview can't meet. The Port of Vancouver and Prince Rupert saw this market emerging, invested in infrastructure to support the container segment, and captured container market share from the Seattle and Tacoma ports. The two Canadian ports are growing and healthy, while the Seattle and Tacoma ports are suffering so badly they are now working together through the new Seaport Alliance.
Part of the Seaport Alliance plan is to focus on break-bulk and compete directly with ports like Longview. Longer term, the Seattle and Tacoma ports are going to retro-fit existing berths in an effort to possibly acquire future container business. Shippers want the most economical pathway to market possible. Longview just won't be competitive in terms of efficiency for container shipping now or in the future.
Finally, to the "we can do better" believers, what is "better?" Is zero job growth at the port better? Is first-quarter profits down 35 percent at the port better? The WCDB signs have been up for years and yet there hasn't been one proposal which fits the bill. Why?
The state of Washington has some of the most strict environmental laws in the country. We'd like to see the WCDB citizens and the economic growth supporters find common ground. This area needs jobs now, not at some unspecified future time.
TDN published a guest editorial last Sunday about potential SR432 improvements. The guest column, written by former Port of Longview Marketing Director Gary Lindstrom, is critical of legislators for denying the SR432 improvements are just for Millennium.
This environmentalist political strategy of tying the SR432 upgrades only to Millennium has been in place for some time. The environmental groups want people to believe improving rail infrastructure essentially is saying yes to coal. This just isn't true.
We hope you the readers see through all this. The SR432 upgrades have been discussed and proposed long before Millennium was ever here. If our region is going to grow family wage jobs, rail and infrastructure improvements are critical. Weyerhaeuser recently signed onto the proposed SR432 upgrades and we support them, too.
It's critical the SR432 solution be included in the state's next transportation budget because there likely won't be another transportation package passed for five to 10 years. By then other ports, like those in Canada, will have seized opportunities and passed us by
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