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Editor’s note: Today’s guest commentary was written by Mike Bridges, of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 48. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.

On Monday, State Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz announced a new effort to boost Washington’s rural economies. Her “Rural Communities Partnership Initiative” is kicking off with the announcement of four initiatives that include a $1 million boat recycling facility and a $1 million research project into the problem of burrowing shrimp on the oyster industry.

It is with welcome appreciation that an administrator finally admits that state government has neglected rural communities, as Commissioner Franz told The Daily News during her recent two-day tour of rural Washington. Commissioner Franz elaborated in a statement announcing the new initiative, saying “communities know best what they need, but often lack the resources for economic initiative.”

While it is great for the state government to finally acknowledge its dereliction of rural citizens, it’s difficult to take these recent statements or initiatives seriously after considering its recent actions.

A case in point is the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminals project in Longview. The project promises to generate 2,950 total jobs and $5.9 million in county tax revenue. That would be a massive economic impact for Cowlitz County, part of the forgotten Washington that Commissioner Franz describes. The project enjoys robust local support and, powered by private investment, sufficient resources for construction.

However, Commissioner Franz opted to perpetuate the state’s neglect of rural communities by denying the project from using aquatic land. Her decision, along with other regulatory hurdles from the state, is to blame for the project’s permitting process that has dragged on for over six years.

Commissioner Franz and the Department of Natural Resources may be out promoting their new initiative, but these efforts are meaningless if they are coupled with the derailment of significant employment opportunities. Commissioner Franz may consider the 15 direct and indirect jobs at the newly proposed boat facility to be an “economic driver,” but they pale in comparison to the thousands of jobs she dismissed by denying an essential permit for the Millennium project.

Communities in rural Washington cannot be expected to believe the state government’s proclaimed efforts of job creation while it, at the same time, undertakes multiple efforts to block projects that would employ thousands.

Commissioner Franz said in her statement, “If you have a good idea, let me know, because my agency is investing in good ideas.” If the idea is to invest in the study of shrimp while holding back thousands of rural jobs, it is not a good one. Good ideas are out there, but the state government has discarded them for not meeting its political preferences.

The state government shouldn’t pretend to care about rural job creation while it actively impedes it. Instead, government agencies should ensure that their actions actually back up their rhetoric. By simply not standing in the way of privately-funded projects like Millennium, agencies like the Department of Natural Resources would create way more jobs and waste way less taxpayer money.

Commissioner Franz said in her statement, “For too many in our rural economies, the status quo isn’t working.” She’s right, and Commissioner Franz and her fellow state officials can be the drivers of much-needed change by putting an end to their stonewalling.

Only then can people living outside the Seattle and Olympia bubbles be reasonably expected to take these claims of rural outreach seriously. And when they do, they will always find willing partners in the men and women of the Longview / Kelso Building Trades.


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