Sen. Maria Cantwell Reviews Port Rail Project

By:  Charles H. Featherstone
Source: Columbia Basin Herald

MOSES LAKE — U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell was in Moses Lake on Monday to review the Port of Moses Lake’s rail project.

“We’re focused on the economic value of the investment,” Cantwell said during a briefing from Port officials. “When I said, ‘let’s fund freight,’ we need to make sure we’re keeping that focus.”

“If we’re moving freight, we’re making money, and we’re growing our economy,” Cantwell added.

The Port of Moses Lake has received a $9.6 million federal transportation grant to help cover the $30.3 million development cost of the Northern Columbia Basin Railroad, which aims to connect the port to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad main line in Wheeler.

Cantwell said she is concerned about making sure freight moves both in and through Washington, and wanted to know from Port officials what opportunities a rail link would give the Port that it does not have right now.

“This was one of the few (grant proposals) that focused on rail,” she said of the Port’s rail project. “We wanted to do something about this anyway.”

Executive Director Jeffrey Bishop told the senator that at least one of the Port’s current tenants, SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers, is excited about the possibility of being able to ship materials in and out by rail.

It gives companies other options, and it makes the Port of Moses Lake more accessible to the world, Bishop added, making the port more attractive as a place to locate business.

“Most of the recruitment (we’re focused on) is clean tech — capacitors, batteries, carbon fiber,” he said.

The Port is currently seeking approval from the Surface Transportation Board in Washington, D.C. — the organization that oversees the nation’s railroads — for a slight rerouting of a segment of rail line paralleling Wheeler Road just east of Moses Lake. Port officials expect the routing will be approved in August.

Work is slated to start on the rail project in 2019.