Photo: Murray Speaking
Thank you Pat for that introduction (Pat Jones, WPPA executive director.) And thank you all for letting me join your annual meeting. I see a lot of familiar faces here today from my visits to your ports, and from working with many of you over the years.
I want to congratulate Judy and Bob on their service, and I want to welcome our new commissioners. Each of you holds a special position of trust in our state and in your communities. You’ve been selected to manage one of our most important public resources, and I know that it’s not an easy job. But I also know that we need your leadership today.
This is a challenging time for our country with the threat of terrorism, and with our men and women in uniform facing great dangers around the world. And it’s a difficult time for our state. Many of our smaller communities are seeing their economic base slip away. Long-standing employers are closing down. Local doctors are moving away, and our state is in danger of losing parts of our heritage and our history. We’ve got to protect those communities so they can continue to offer a great quality of life for the next generation. We’ve got to use every resource we can to turn the situation around, and that’s why all of you are so important.
Ports Drive Our Economy
The ports that you run offer the best hope for economic growth. Our ports have always been economic drivers, but today - their success can be the difference between a community that is struggling, and a community that is growing strong. Many of you have served your ports and communities for years. I want to thank you for taking on that responsibility, and I am as committed as ever to being your partner at the federal level. I’m committed to meeting with you and hearing about your needs firsthand. And I’m committed to tapping every federal resource that I can to help you -- help your community.
Today I want to update you on some of the progress we’ve made this year in areas like infrastructure improvements and freight mobility, and then I want to look ahead to coming year and talk about some of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. But first, I want to share with you an experience that I had growing up, that has always shaped the way I look at our ports and trade in particular.
When I was growing up, my father managed a five and ten cents store on Main Street in Bothell. Often he would go to trade fairs in Seattle to buy the good that were sold in the stores. Growing up, I always understand the importance of trade. For my family, it was how we put food on the table. I’ve never forgotten how important trade was to my family, and over the years, I’ve seen the impact it has on every family in our state. Today 1 in 4 Washington state jobs depend on international trade. We’ve got to make the most of those trade jobs.
That’s why I’m so committed to investing in our infrastructure. I know that our transportation infrastructure affects our economy, our productivity, and our quality of life. When we invest in our ports, our airports, highways and rail we’re creating good jobs today, and we’re laying the foundation for our future economic growth. Over the years, I’ve worked to put myself on the right committees to support trade and infrastructure.
As you know, I serve as the highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate’s Transportation and Treasury appropriations subcommittee. Every year, I help write the budget that funds highway, airport, and other transportation projects across the country. And being on the leadership of that committee really makes a difference.
Back when Senator Gorton and I were both on the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee --in Fiscal Year 2001, we secured a total of $68 million for Washington state. This year, I’ve secured $236 million.
That funding will support transportation projects in every corner of our state. In addition, Washington State will receive another $600 million in formula funding. All of that funding will be finalized – hopefully soon -- in an Omnibus Appropriations bill.
I was very proud to work with many of you in this room to make the investments that improve our ports.
For example, working with Larry Paulson at the Port of Vancouver, and Glenn Vanselow at the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, we secured $3.5 million for the Columbia River Channel Deepening project this year. It’s one of my highest priorities, and I’ve got to tell you there was no support for Channel Deepening in the President’s budget. But I fought for that funding because I know we need it to be competitive. In the Senate, I got $5 million. The House had $2 million. In the end, we got $3.5 million for Channel Deepening.
Port of Chinook
This summer, when I learned that the Port of Chinook was on the verge of closing due to an impassable channel, I convinced the Army Corps of Engineers to divert a nearby dredge to clear the channel. As a result, the largest employer at the Port -- and the second-largest crab processor in the state - was able to continue operations, keeping jobs right there in the local community.
Port of Pasco
Some of our best successes working together have come at ports along the Columbia River and in Central and Eastern Washington. Working with Jim Toomey and the port commissioners in Pasco, we just funded a $3 million project to improve the ports truck and rail infrastructure, and to construct a trail at Sacagawea State Park for the upcoming Lewis and Clark celebrations.
Walla Walla – Highway 12
One of my favorite projects was brought to me by Jim Kuntz, the commissioners at the Port of Walla Walla, and the local community. Together, we are working to widen Highway 12. It’s going to improve freight mobility, and it will make one of the deadliest stretches of highway in our state safer for the school children and everyone who travels on Highway 12 every day. Thanks to the Port of Walla Walla and a “can-do” attitude in the local community, we are seeing a great project move to construction.
I’ve heard from many of you on the importance of extending Section 214 authority to allow ports to contribute funds to expedite Corps permit reviews. I was pleased to be able to include the Section 214 authority in the Energy and Water Appropriations bill.
Ports of Quincy, Garfield & Ridgefield
I was also able to secure $2 million to support the Port of Quincy intermodal project. It will provide a rail loop to ag. facilities and the BNSF mainline. It’s going to serve ag-producers, food processors, and retail distributors. That project will generate jobs, and it will help diversify the area’s economy.
And there are many other infrastructure projects we’ve worked on together including investments at the Port of Garfield, and a brownfield project at the Port of Ridgefield.
We’re also making progress on the FAST Corridor, which has really become a national model for freight mobility. This year, I secured $3 million for the FAST Corridor. That brings the total federal investment up to $150 million for Phase One.
One of our greatest successes this year has been Washington’s leadership in port security, especially with Operation Safe Commerce. I know that a terrorist incident at one of our ports could bring commerce to a standstill – and that would have an impact on every community – large and small. So I’m working to keep our ports open to the global traffic and trade that are so important to our economy. I’ve had great partners in Washington state on Port Security and I particularly want to thank Mic Dinsmore at the Port of Seattle, and Andrea Rineker at the Port of Tacoma for their leadership.
Coast Guard Missions
I’m also working to make sure that Coast Guard can handle its new security duties – without shortchanging the traditional missions that you depend on from search and rescue, to environmental protection, and fisheries enforcement. The Coast Guard is critical to our coastal communities and inland waterways, and I’m working to make sure it has the funding to carry-out all of its missions successfully.
So we have made some great progress this year – working together – to invest in our port infrastructure, in freight mobility, and security.
Upcoming Budget Fight
Next, I want to preview some of the upcoming battles in Congress that will affect our ports. Early next year, we will take up the President’s budget request for the coming fiscal year. As a senior member of the Senate Budget Committee, I’ll be interested in many aspects of the President’s budget request from agricultural research, to the Bonneville Power Administration, to the Coast Guard,and a lot of other things that affect us here at home.
Corps Budget – Channel Deepening
One area of real importance to our ports will be funding for the Army Corps of Engineers. This year, President Bush proposed to cut Corps funding by $445 million. I spent nine months after his budget came out fighting to undo that cut. Eventually we restored $288 million to the Corps. So before we get hit with another budget proposal that cuts Corps funding, we have to work to encourage the President to adequately fund the Corps of Engineers in his upcoming budget. That budget will have a big impact on Channel Deepening. For us to really make progress on Channel Deepening -- and on other important new starts for the Pacific Northwest -- we must stop the downward slide in Army Corps funding. If the funding keeps slipping, then important construction schedules will be delayed and the backlog in Operations and Maintenance will grow.
Corps Budget – Small Port Dredging & Jetties
It’s not just the Channel Deepening project that depends on Army Corps of Engineers funding. Last year’s budget request would have denied dredging to 25 small ports -- most in rural coastal communities that rely on jobs supported by port activity. Thousands of feet of the jetties at the Mouth of the Columbia have been lost in recent years due to storms. They need federal help through the Corps budget. So those are just a few of the reasons why the Corps budget is so important to our state. I’ll continue to use my position on the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee to meet our infrastructure needs along our coast and waterways. And I encourage each of you to let the President know that the Army Corps of Engineers is tremendously important to Washington state.
T-21 Reauthorization- What’s Ahead
Another issue that will come up next year concerns transportation funding in general. Early next year, Congress will reauthorize T-21. That’s the major transportation law that sets funding levels for various transportation programs. Freight mobility, transit and highway funding levels are all set in this legislation. The last bill, a few years ago, authorized $218 billion nationwide. This year, both the House and Senate proposals are much higher. The Senate bill would offer $311 billion over six years. The House bill proposes $375 billion. Getting a high commitment is important because the more funding we authorize, the better chance we’ll have to meet the needs here in Washington.
One of my priorities for reauthorization is supporting our ferry system. As you know, Washington state has the largest ferry system in the nation. I’ve introduced legislation to quadruple the federal government’s investment in ferries. Right now, the Federal government sets aside $38 million a year on ferries. My bill will increase the Federal ferry investment to $150 million a year. Congressman Rick Larsen has taken the lead on this issue in the House of Representatives, and he’s already making progress. The House Transportation Committee recently agreed to increase ferry funding to $125 million per year, and I congratulate Congressman Larsen on his leadership. Working together, we’ve set the table to significantly increase Federal ferry funding to our state.
Before I close, I want to commend the Association and all of you for helping to nurture great leaders in the port community. Through your Educational Foundation, you’re investing in the people who will help our ports make a difference. I want to congratulate Cathy Porter from the Port of Royal Slope, and Jim Rothlin from the Port of Chehalis on winning this year’s scholarships. We’re looking forward to great opportunities for both of you.
So as I look back of the past year, I recognize the challenges. I know that many of our communities are still struggling, but I also know that everyone in this room is committed to turning things around. You’ve stepped up to the plate and volunteered to put your experience to work for your neighbors and for your community. Your communities have put their trust in you, and you are helping them. And all of you have shared your priorities with me you’ve helped me understand your challenges and you’ve allowed me to reach positions of leadership so I can really deliver for you and your communities.
Together, we are making progress on transportation funding. We are making progress on infrastructure. And we are making progress on freight mobility. There will be challenges in the coming year, but I’ve seen what we can accomplish when we work together. And I am committed, to being your partner at the federal level, and to helping you make the port that you serve an economic engine that lifts your community and revitalizes our state.