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A port project that makes sense for Coos Bay

A proposal to create a container port at Coos Bay would improve port capacity, benefiting the entire West Coast and giving the Oregon Coast a much-needed economic boost. The project makes sense in ways the now-withdrawn natural gas pipeline and export facility never did, and the Biden administration should provide the funding requested by Oregon lawmakers.

We did not support the Jordan Cove project, which would have built a gas pipeline across Southern Oregon so a Canadian company could export liquefied natural gas processed in an earthquake and tsunami zone with little benefit to Oregonians. But Coos Bay is still in need of an economic boost. Handling shipping containers will provide that without the drawbacks of exporting gas and with several advantages.

Existing ports in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Seattle, Tacoma and Oakland handle more than 23 million shipping containers a year. They are among the 10 busiest ports in the country, but they have suffered delays and labor shortages during the pandemic. They also have struggled with a lack of trucking capacity as ships stacked up offshore waiting to unload containers loaded with goods from around the world.

Trucking wouldn’t be an issue with Coos Bay, because the port is served by a rail line owned and operated by the Port of Coos Bay. The line sat unused for four years before the port purchased it and reopened it to freight traffic in 2011. Improvements to the line since then have increased train speeds and therefore the time required to haul freight from the coast to Eugene. Federal grants helped with that work as well as repairs to tunnels along the 134-mile route.

A Coos Bay container port would be the first ship-to-rail operation on the West Coast — offering the ability to boost port capacity without increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

Plans for the port include electric power produced from renewable sources that would run cargo-handling equipment and vehicle charging, and allow ships to avoid running their engines to produce power, drastically decreasing emissions while in port.

The port is already working with NorthPoint Development, a Missouri company, to expand the port to handle more than 1 million containers per year.

Oregon lawmakers have written to President Joe Biden asking for a share of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act to help develop the port. We cannot think of a better use for infrastructure money than a project that would create jobs in a struggling coastal city, benefit the West Coast as a whole as well as the rest of the country, and do it all in an environmentally responsible way.

The White House should give Oregon’s request prompt and favorable consideration.