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Friday, August 14, 2009

Vancouver, Wash., terminal stirs hope for jobs

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Southwest Washington's three-member congressional delegation gathered at the Port of Vancouver to celebrate the opening of a new marine terminal on the former Alcoa-Evergreen aluminum site, The Columbian reported. Alcoa this spring finished environmental cleanup of the 218-acre site, making way for the port to complete its purchase of the two properties in March for a total of $48.25 million. The port is now ready to develop the site, zoned for heavy industrial use.


Work begins in November on a new $18-million rail loop project, a bundle of tracks that will encircle 1.8 miles of the new terminal when it's complete in 2010. The real estate within the rail loop already is being used to store wind turbine components, the region's hottest new import.


Wind tower components served as a backdrop to the event, underscoring the community's hope that the new terminal will also bring new jobs to the county. With 27,000 unemployed residents in June, including the loss of more than 1,000 manufacturing jobs in the past 12 months, job creation was the overwhelming theme of the delegates' speeches.


Key to the port's development plans is the rail loop, part of the $137-million West Vancouver Freight Access project to relieve freight train congestion through Vancouver. The loop will triple the number of rail cars that move through the port each year and decrease congestion on the BNSF main line that occurs when a train comes into the port.


The port's current rail facility isn't long enough to accommodate unit trains that can stretch more than a mile with over 100 cars. The port must break them up in order to unload the product and then reassemble the cars before trains can leave. The trains also stick out onto the main line, blocking train traffic for as much as an hour and a half.


The new loop will be long enough to allow the full train to sit on the tracks, without taking it apart and will reduce the waiting time 5 to 15 minutes as the trains cross the mainline. Funding for the loop project is also secured, with $2.5 million in federal stimulus money, and the remaining $15.5 million from federal and state appropriations and port reserves.


The port expects the entire freight access project to create 1,000 new full-time jobs by 2017 and 1,900 construction jobs. It might take many years for the port's investment to bring back the hundreds of manufacturing jobs held by Alcoa and then Vanalco aluminum workers at the site, however.


The port will pursue an additional $3 million from the transportation bill now under consideration in the Senate to replace some of the port's $10.7 million portion. The money will help offset future costs of the larger freight access project and reduce the need to seek outside funding for the remaining phases of the project.

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