Shortline president calls for override of governor's veto

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OLYMPIA, Wash. — After Washington Gov. Jay Inslee chose agriculture over railroads, the president of the Portland Vancouver Junction Railroad is urging legislators to override the governor's veto.

In a statement released May 17, Portland Vancouver Junction President Eric Temple says Clark County, Wash., where his railroad operates, missed out in 2016 on as many as 7,300 jobs when four companies needing rail-served land couldn't find large parcels with proper zoning. Temple lays the problem on restrictions imposed on local development by the state Growth Management Act.

A bipartisan bill passing by large majorities in both the House and Senate would have given rural jurisdictions more flexibility in zoning land adjacent to railroads for rail-dependent businesses.

"In Clark County, the area in question is a couple of hundred acres of underutilized farmland located on a four-lane highway, a railroad, and between the cities of Vancouver and Battle Ground," Temple says. "Of the nearly 75,000 acres of agricultural land in Clark County, these changes would have affected less than half a percent."

In his veto message signed on May 16, Inslee said he is working with legislators and stakeholders for better economic development in rural and underserved areas. But he also supports the Growth Management Act, which he says promotes thoughtful development while protecting important resource lands.

"While this bill might help rural counties to develop adjacent to short line railroads in designated counties, it would undermine our longstanding commitment to preserve working farms and promote our agricultural economy," Inslee says in his veto message. The governor also says he would support a broader review of the law, something proposed in budgets the House and Senate are considering.

The short line handles freight on the 33-mile Chelatchie Prairie Railroad, a one-time logging line and Northern Pacific property, owned since 1986 by Clark County. The company interchanges with both Union Pacific and BNSF Railway in Vancouver, Wash., just across the Columbia River from Portland, Ore., and currently works as far north as Battle Ground, Wash.

A nonprofit excursion line running as the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad operates passenger trains most weekends behind a saddle-tank 2-8-2 steam engine built by Alco in 1929 for a logging company or an Alco S-2 diesel switch engine delivered in 1941 to the Los Angeles Junction Railway.

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