By Devin Higgins, May 7, 2015, iFiber One News
Sen. Judy Warnick talked with Grant County representatives about the progress in obtaining finances for a rail line to the Port of Moses Lake.
Members of the Moses Lake Chamber of Commerce, the Port of Moses Lake and the Grant County Economic Development Council met with Warnick on Thursday.
The state legislature is currently negotiating a 16-year, $15.1 billion transportation package in a special 30-day session.
The Senate version has approximately $21 million allocated for the Northern Columbia Basin Railroad Project to extend the railroad line to the Port of Moses Lake and rerouting it away from downtown Moses Lake. The House version does not.
Before the Transportation Package is approved the two versions are to be blended. When it is finished, it goes to the governor for his signature and final approval.
Representatives Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, and Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, are working to add the project to the combined package.
“They both understand the economic impact it will have on the region, but now it’s a question of having to support the Senate reforms or the proposed House taxes to pay for it,” Warnick said.
Chamber of Commerce member Mark Fancher said what might help get the deal finalized is conveying the widespread impact on Moses Lake outside of the port.
“One commonality we have is that people want the tracks taken out of downtown and that opens up the potential for a lot of development and revitalization. They can be converted to trails which commuters could use to bike to work. Lakefront businesses could expand and everyone’s property values would likely go up,” Fancher said.
Northern Columbia Basin Railroad representative Pat Boss said he believes as energy costs continue to fluctuate and more companies are considering relocating out of areas like California, Grant County is becoming a more attractive location and it needs the infrastructure to handle it.
“People are waking up to this part of the world in terms of available land, low power rates and good water management. They’re also waking up to the value of having industrial rail nearby as a low-cost alternative to distance trucking or air freight. With emissions and energy regulations continuing to change over the next few years, it’s even more important to have that framework in place,” Boss said.
Port of Moses Lake Executive Director Jeffrey Bishop said the Transportation Package doesn’t cover the entire cost of the project, but finances about 80 percent and makes acquiring federal funds for the rest easier.
“Make no mistake, $21 million is a big investment, but with the millions of dollars we’ve invested to get to this point, if we get that money it will make our case to the federal government for grants and funds to cover the final $10 million that much better,” Bishop said.
Warnick told the group the discussions between Senate Transportation Chair Steve King and House Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn have been both productive and positive, but it will come down to making hard decisions.
“Sen. King has been supportive of Moses Lake since the beginning and Rep. Clibborn said she likes it as well. It will all depend on how the final package is presented and there are still some tough choices to make,” Warnick said.