Common sense needed on regulatory issues

The Daily News Longview | Jeff Wilson, Port of Longview Commissioner | 3/1/18

The time has come for the return of common sense to our regulatory process.

For more than five years, I have watched as state and federal officials have stalled regulatory reviews on major projects that would bring family-wage jobs, increased tax revenue and economic development to Southwest Washington communities.

Agencies such as the Department of Ecology are limiting choices and impacting the abilities of our communities to provide family-wage jobs while being responsible to the environment. This is especially disturbing in a state such as Washington, which prides itself on being a leader in global trade — and we are failing at every turn to invest in major components of our trade infrastructure.

Some of our strongest economic development assets in Cowlitz County are our ports and rail lines. Unfortunately, these are rapidly becoming liabilities in the eyes of the state because of their proximity to the Columbia River. This is precisely what makes industrial land with access to rail lines and shipping docks attractive to potential investors.

In fact, the completion of the 2010 Columbia River Channel Deeping project was purposely intended to add capacity and increase marine cargo movements on the Columbia River. This was a federal project that placed obligations on the sponsor ports to enhance and expand trade with financial debt and obligation, all with Ecology’s acknowledgement.

The state of Washington frequently is touted as an international trading hub with access to many deep water ports that have an obligation to consider the interior states’ ability to trade within foreign and domestic markets in cooperation of our state. Southwest Washington, including Cowlitz County, has active ports and well-established industrial zones waiting to be used to support our state’s major industries, such as agriculture, move their products to domestic and global markets. To do that, we need private investors to help build up our infrastructures. But, those domestic and international industry investors need assurances of timely and accurate decisions to maintain an economy that can be used to support government services.

Instead, state agencies such as Ecology have left a path of confusion and prejudice in their decision-making, at the expense of families in Cowlitz County and other rural communities. Unceasing regulatory hurdles, changes in design reviews and requirements for endless public comment (usually heavily attended by out-of-state and out-of-county protesters) eventually take their toll and paints Washington state as an unreasonable place to do business.

The people of Southwest Washington desire a voice in their economic future. There are far too many people struggling to provide for their families. A healthy economy provides tax revenue that supports programs with funding. Family-wage jobs are the key to helping these families thrive, and that will require private employers willing to invest in our communities.

Washington is a trade dependent state. We need a regulatory review process that provides clear timelines for prospective investors. We need regulatory decisions that balance the economic needs and strengths of a community with the environment. And, we need a process to be consistent, so companies looking to sink private dollars into local projects will have a clear sense of what is required of them.