Railroad construction on hold for six months

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MOSES LAKE — Construction won’t start on the Northern Columbia Basin Railroad link along Wheeler Road until later this year, according to Port of Moses Lake Executive Director Jeffrey Bishop.

“There will not be any construction activities (along the Wheeler Corridor) for the next six months,” Bishop told port commissioners at a regular meeting on Monday.

The port has been in talks with the Federal Railroad Administration, which regulates the country’s railroads, about moving a portion of the rail line 87 feet to better accommodate the lay of the land and avoid buildings.

Bishop said even a small redrawing of the proposed route requires a lengthy environment assessment, though he added it appears the port may have secured a shorter assessment period.

“We cannot spend any money until the environment process is completed,” Bishop said.

The port has received a $19.9 million grant from the state of Washington and another $9.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to Northern Columbia Basin Railroad project, which will connect the Port of Moses Lake to the BNSF mainline hub in Wheeler.

The connection would allow businesses and manufacturers at the port to bring and ship out components and finished products by rail, reducing traffic on the area’s roads.

Bishop also told the commissioners that with renewed talk of tariffs in Washington, there may be an opportunity for the Port of Moses Lake as the center of Foreign Trade Zone No. 203.

Foreign Trade Zones (FTZ) allow companies to bring in goods, materials or components and “add value,” such as creating finished products, and pay lower tariff or customs duties.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest in the zones again, and some companies may take a heavier presence in the U.S. as a tariff strategy,” Bishop said.

Bishop said that laws governing FTZs allow for “inverted tariffs,” which allow manufacturers to pay lower duties when the customs charges on the components is higher than the customs fee charged on a finished product. The goal of this is to keep manufacturing jobs in the United States.

Bishop said a number of the industries located in the Port, such as SGL Automotive, use materials imported into the U.S. to produce parts or components that are immediately exported. The FTZ also includes off-site areas like REC Silicon, business parks in the ports of Quincy and Othello, as well as the Tri-Cities.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at countygvt@columbiabasinherald.com.

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