Spokane City Council reverses course on illegal rail ordinance

Council decision a cautionary tale for other cities dealing with polarizing issues 

SPOKANE — After weeks of heated debate and protest, the Spokane City Council rescinded its rail ordinance Monday night, effectively removing the measure from the fall ballot.

The ordinance, approved by the Council in July, would have made illegal the shipment of oil and coal through the city of Spokane, allowing for fines of $261 per car. Despite warnings by the Council’s own policy advisor, the city previously approved the measure 6-0, putting taxpayers on the hook for an almost-certain legal challenge. Rail and trade experts immediately panned the proposal, which would have jeopardized millions in rail infrastructure investments and set a dangerous precedent going forward with regard to rail use.

“This was the right call,” said Matthew Lebsack, local chairman of the Spokane Local 1505 SMART-TD (Sheet Metal, Air, Rail Transit Transportation Division) Union.  “I am relieved the Council saw how potentially devastating this could be for our trade infrastructure, for jobs and for the economy of the whole Pacific Northwest. Rail is the backbone of our trade-based economy. We can’t pick and choose our commodities, and it could have created real problems with other states. The end result would have had a disastrous effect on our rail shipping, on future investments in rail and in the thousands of jobs tied to the rail industry in our state,” added Lebsack.

Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan, who was out of town during the original July vote on the measure, applauded his colleagues for taking another look at the ordinance and reversing course.

“The City Council deserves credit for seeing the error of their ways and having the courage to reverse their decision.  I’m glad to see that we are going to take a longer-term approach, use more data and real evidence to support real solution, not chase short term political gain.”