We take great pride in our communities. As local elected officials in Whatcom County, we have found that whether Republican or Democrat, progressive or conservative, debate in our area has traditionally been respectful. In that spirit, we want to share our personal thoughts with you on an issue.
Civic harmony was occasionally lacking last year in the debate over the proposed new export terminal in the heavy industrial port area at Cherry Point. Public meetings over the project sometimes featured sharp exchanges between supporters and opponents. Those meetings are behind us now, however, and we would like to take this opportunity to clear the air, and call for a less inflammatory debate around the project.
Despite any differences in opinion, we are all still neighbors. We all want to see our area succeed economically and continue to be a great place to live and to raise a family.
Over past decades, we've seen Mobil (now Conoco Phillips), Intalco Aluminum (now Alcoa) and ARCO (now BP) all open facilities in our county. Each of these projects came with some level of environmental concern, but all are now good neighbors. Their wealth supports the many government services that we demand. We believe the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal will play a similar role, providing vital high wage jobs and substantial tax revenue while respecting our love of the environment.
But our good-paying industrial job base has been shrinking over many years, to the extent that Whatcom County's average wage is now about 20 percent lower than the state average. We need to do everything we can to attract businesses that pay family wages and offer good benefits. Every lost opportunity extends the pain of financial stress for too many families. And less citizen spending power means fewer customers at local businesses and less tax revenue to support local schools and other vital services.
Once Gateway Pacific Terminal is operational, it will be the second-largest property tax payer in the county. The terminal would benefit the Ferndale and Blaine school districts, paying property taxes in both. These districts have voter-approved levies funded from the taxes paid by property owners in the district. The taxes paid by GPT would take the load off of other property owners in these districts by over $2.2 million every year.
The terminal also would create new property tax revenues of roughly $4.8 million. That means adding more than $600,000 in annual tax revenues to the local fire district, more than $300,000 for our library district, and nearly $200,000 for the Port of Bellingham. On top of all this, nearly $1.8 million would go toward Whatcom County itself, and $1.7 million to Washington state.
The sales and use taxes generated by the terminal are another big cash infusion for our community and would add an additional $700,000 annually to local jurisdictions in Whatcom County and an estimated $2.5 million annually to Washington state. Once Gateway is up and running, economic studies show that more than 1,250 jobs will be created, with an estimated annual payroll of about $128 million; in turn, these workers will spend about $17.1 million at local stores, restaurants and businesses each year.
During the two-year construction phase alone this would mean $12.3 million in local sales and use tax revenue, mainly in Bellingham, Ferndale, Blaine and Lynden, while Washington state would receive $44.3 million in sales and use tax revenue. This is the difference between a Main Street with bustling businesses and a Main Street with shuttered vacancies.
Not only will the Gateway Pacific Terminal create jobs, but it will save the jobs of others that would otherwise fall victim to budget shortfalls. And as our economy grows more prosperous, it's more likely that support will grow for important new bond measures to upgrade schools and levies for school operations.
The Cherry Point industrial zone is designated in land use and shoreline plans for port-related industry. The environmental review process for the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal project is comprehensive and the widespread participation in hearings about its scope speaks to the demand of our local community for the project to be environmentally responsible. We would want nothing less. However, we do believe that industry and environmental responsibility are not mutually exclusive endeavors.
We have done our homework and we have listened to the facts. We want the project to move ahead because it will be held to a high standard environmentally, and we clearly need to expand our tax base and create jobs. It's clear that the Gateway Pacific Terminal represents a great opportunity and like the other Cherry Point industries, we believe that the Gateway Pacific Terminal can be another good neighbor for Whatcom County.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Brent Goodrich serves on the Ferndale City Council and Bonnie Onyon serves on the Blaine City Council.