Guest Opinion: Our communities need the boost coal would bring - The Oregonian

Jul 2nd, 2013

We often hear stories from our friends and colleagues in the Portland region about children who don't return home after college or move to other cities because there is more opportunity elsewhere. It's a frustration born out of their inability to enjoy adult sons and daughters or experience the joy of having grandchildren nearby. While the anecdotes are intended to produce head-nodding agreement from people frustrated by this newfound phenomenon, it's something folks in rural Oregon learned to live with long ago.

That's why we are committed to using the natural advantages of our respective regions to create jobs that support families in our communities. Whether it's the sustainable harvest of timber in our forests or the safe and efficient movement of goods through our ports, we have proved that we can leverage these Oregon assets to offer world-class goods and services.

But as long as we've been in local leadership positions, there has been a profound tension between our livelihoods and the political goals of many Portlanders. The latest manifestation of this tension is the Morrow Pacific Project, which would transport coal in enclosed barges from Boardman to Columbia County for shipment to foreign countries.

The Portland City Council, Beaverton City Council and Metro have all passed resolutions expressing opposition to this project, largely based on concerns about coal being transported through our region by rail. But that's a red herring. There is no coal export project proposing to use railcars through Multnomah or Columbia County.

Their issue is about the use of coal as an energy source. If opponents are successful in preventing the Oregon export of coal, it will have no impact on global consumption -- zero. Coal will simply be transported through the Pacific Northwest on its way to Canada for export. Or foreign countries will get it from another source. So the net result of their opposition is that it will make a point, not a difference.

As with all local governments, the level of service we can provide our citizens directly correlates to our success in creating a tax base to support those services. With the near elimination of timber harvesting and federal county payments, we are struggling to hold our communities together. Columbia County is on the verge of losing its county jail, and law enforcement staffing is at historic lows. Morrow County desperately needs new funding for its public schools. We need to use our natural advantages, such as our ability to move bulk commodities safely to foreign ports. Coal, which has traveled through our region for decades, is just another commodity we move.


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