About five years ago, in my capacity as a state legislator, I was invited to a meeting of the Clark County Railroad Advisory Board, (CCRAB). The discussion centered around utilizing the county’s short-line rail to attract new family-wage jobs. I was surprised to learn so many manufacturing facilities were being turned away. Most of these potential new job creators had two things in common; they needed a large parcel of land with access to rail.
According to CCRAB members, and representatives from the Columbia River Economic Development Council, the culprit was the Washington State Growth Management Act (GMA). Statutes under the GMA at that time prohibited Clark County government from allowing economic development opportunities on large parcels located in rural areas along the Chelatchie Prairie Short Line Railroad.
GMA was passed in 1990 as a way for a centralized government to control land-use policies and take away that authority from local counties. This “one-size-fits-all” style of control hardly ever works.
Within a few days of that first CCRAB meeting, I set up a conference call between the county’s short-line rail coordinator and House Counsel who staffed the Local Government Committee for our caucus in Olympia. The ultimate goal was to identify a way the county could allow the development of underutilized parcels along the Chelatchie Prairie rail line in order to convert them into jobs producing sites. All we had to do was add a section to current law. The GMA had not had any substantial changes made to it in 25 years. A lot of people said it couldn’t be done. But that never stopped us before.
We got a bill drafted to address this issue. Colleagues on both sides of the aisle joined in the effort. It took a few years for the bill to gain enough traction, but by the end of the long session in 2017, after one gubernatorial veto, a very narrow version of the bill, SB 5517, carved out this new policy for just two counties in Washington: Okanogan and Clark. Hurray! It was a victory for our region. We were on our way to bringing thousands of new jobs to Clark County. Or, so we thought.
Did the county bureaucrats work to sabotage the implementation of
Some staffers at the county were not cheering the passage of the bill. It’s as if a few of them were card-carrying members of Futurewise, the private and rabid environmental group that wants to control your land, and dictate what you can or cannot do on your own property. County staff put out wildly exaggerated information about the implementation of the new policy within SB 5517 that hinted of nuclear power plants coming to Brush Prairie. Even more alarming was that a few citizens actually took the bait being spewed.
People, wake up.
As with any new land use development application, a very open public process is held so that community members have an opportunity to weigh in. The same would be the case for any applications to develop new jobs producing facilities along the rail line as part of the implementation of SB 5517.
More living wage jobs reduce our local taxes
When the county finally implements SB 5517, we will see thousands of new jobs streaming into our region. Everyone will win, not just those who get to finally work in the community where they live.
When new companies that are compatible with our neighbors are allowed to locate along the Chelatchie Prairie rail line, additional jobs will translate into massive new revenue streams for Clark County. Traffic congestion will ease. Imagine 10,000 fewer commuters on Interstate 5 and 205. This will result in a significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and fewer trucks on our roadways. And, the railroad infrastructure is already in place.
are the most expensive places to live
Without adequate industry, citizens end up paying most of the taxes to fund government entities. We pay for schools, police and fire departments, roads, and infrastructure to build and maintain water and sewer services. We fund three major public Ports in Clark County. We pay for public libraries and parks. The list goes on and on. Today, our tax burden on retirees and working families is near a breaking point. Have you looked at your property tax bill lately? Be sure you are sitting down when you do so. Taxes have never been this extreme.
Given our current political climate in Olympia, with an insatiable appetite for raising taxes, there is only one way forward for Clark County. Attracting new industry is a sure way we can reduce the tax burden on our citizens and create a more vibrant local economy.
I’m not giving up on Clark County. This month marks the two year anniversary when this new law took effect. Had this new policy been implemented at the county without delay, new companies would be breaking ground and hiring new workers right now. It’s been 24 months. Let’s not wait any longer.
Liz Pike is a retired Washington State Representative who served three terms, from 2012 to 2018. Today she operates Shangri-La Farm, a small-scale organic farm in Fern Prairie outside of Camas with her husband Neil and also teaches oil painting classes. She can be reached at (360) 281-8720 or firstname.lastname@example.org.