As a local business owner, I am concerned that the cost of delays at rail crossing on the GPT coal train route will negate any economic benefits that might be gained by building the terminal. I believe that this project would hinder existing businesses and lead to net job losses in the region. My own business would certainly be hurt. I own a small specialty sawmill, Pacific Rim Tonewoods, up the Skagit River; we make wooden parts for guitars. If you've played or listened to a Martin, Taylor or Gibson built in the last 25 years, we've likely made parts for it. We take a comparatively small amount of wood and turn it into a piece that is exactingly made and an integral component for U.S. businesses; these in turn provide thousands of jobs downstream.
We have 26 employees, and pay family wages and benefits. (Using SSA math, that would likely be 150-plus jobs.)
Half of our people commute across the tracks, from Bellingham, Mount Vernon and elsewhere, at grade-level crossings that are already subject to delays. All of our freight and all of our goods, both inbound and outbound, move through the same crossings. When the trains come, traffic stops. And waits. There's no way around.
Further, we purchase most of our logs in Alaska and barge them to Smith Island, near Everett, where they are transferred to land and loaded on log trucks. To access this port, trucks must deal with another grade-level crossing, one that is already very congested.
Delays are expensive, particularly when a business is lean. Pacific Rim Tonewoods is only one small operation, 20 miles from the Burlington Northern tracks. There are thousands of other companies from Bellingham to Spokane that would also experience similar waits at crossings; imagine the aggregate cost of these delays!
Times are hard, but in this region we have many good jobs already; jobs that are both innovative and traditional, from software to aerospace, from truck engineering to timber, from tissue culture to tulips. With imagination, verve, and discipline, we can make many more. We should not allow GPT's trains to obstruct the east-west flow of traffic in our several counties nor to shear us off from our working waterfronts. Let's not compromise the good jobs we have now, let's not cannibalize our robust and diverse economy to make a coal dump. We can do better!
Steve McMinn is a business owner and Lummi Island resident. This is a revised version of his column released Jan. 21, 2012.