A bipartisan congressional delegation from the Pacific Northwest is pressing President Joe Biden to support the creation of a container port in Oregon, saying it could significantly boost West Coast port capacity and bolster the export of agricultural goods and forest products.
Earlier this month, Rep. Peter DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon and chair of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, asked the White House to consider allocating funds from the recent infrastructure law toward the creation of the “West Coast’s first ship-to-rail ecoport” at Coos Bay.
“Establishing a container port in Coos Bay would immediately increase West Coast port capacity by up to 10%, including imports into the U.S. and exports of agriculture and forest products to international markets,” said the June 16 letter by DeFazio. “There is simply no other place on the West Coast where that level of additional capacity can be achieved.”
Federal backing of the project could help remedy the congestion faced by West Coast ports, according to DeFazio.
“The significant disruptions to the U.S. supply chain have exposed longstanding challenges to our capacity to ship American goods around the globe, particularly from our western ports. The effects have been felt across the country and have caused problems for imports and exports alike, including the export of agriculture and forest products,” DeFazio said. “Congestion at our nation’s ports is partly to blame, and serious investment and increased capacity are needed to both recover and meet future demand.”
The Port of Coos Bay, which DeFazio called “underutilized for decades,” is working with NorthPoint Development in a public-private partnership that aims to match federal investment funds and bring the project to fruition. NorthPoint, which has offices in Kansas City, Missouri, and St. Louis, specializes in industrial development, cold storage and 3PL warehousing.
The port already has some assets in place that could serve as the basis of the port’s expansion: The port’s Coos Bay Rail Line interchanges with Class I railroad Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP) and short lines Central Oregon & Pacific and the Portland & Western, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains the port’s channel. The port also is surrounded by hundreds of acres of undeveloped industrial land, according to DeFazio.
DeFazio also touted the potential environmental benefits of the proposed port expansion. The Coos Bay intermodal city will be the first ship-to-rail port facility on the West Coast, which could reduce the ports’ reliance on trucks, he said. Electric-powered cargo handling equipment, vehicle charging and onshore power will utilize “green electricity produced by renewable energy sources,” while cold ironing at the berth will power ships rather than running diesel engines offshore.
“All of this will result in a 90% improved power efficiency and at least a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions,” DeFazio said.
Stakeholders have already submitted a grant application for a Pacific coast intermodal port to through a U.S. Department of Transportation discretionary grant program that includes infrastructure, highway and rural surface transportation projects.
Democrats co-signing DeFazio’s letter were Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Reps. Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici and Kurt Schrader. Also signing was New Jersey Rep. Don Payne, chair of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.
Republicans co-signing the letter were Rep. Cliff Bentz of Oregon; Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler, Cathay McMorris Rodgers and Dan Newhouse of Washington; Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho; and Rep. Doug LaMalfa of California.
Congressional efforts to secure federal support for the port expansion have been ongoing. In March, FreightWaves reported that Merkley lobbied Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg at a Senate hearing to support the $1 billion container terminal on the site of a proposed LNG export facility that ultimately failed to get built.
Merkley said then that the new container terminal would handle 1 million forty-foot containers.