Every dollar makes a difference.
Coos Bay port awarded money for rail line
REEDSPORT — The International Port of Coos Bay was awarded $7.8 million Wednesday, the last funding step needed for the 111-mile Coos Bay rail line to Eugene to reopen next year.
“We are here today with the final piece that will make this happen,” Gov. Ted Kulongoski said during a ceremony announcing the award at American Bridge's plant on Bolon Island north of Reedsport.
The grant from the ConnectOregon III infrastructure program is good news for shippers, who were forced to switch to more expensive truck shipments after the tracks were shut down without warning by Roseburg-based Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad in September 2007.
The port received the largest grant among 41 projects formally approved earlier Wednesday at the Oregon Transportation Commission meeting in Hermiston. Among the $97.1 million in projects funded was $1.2 million to extend the runway at the Roseburg Regional Airport.
David Kronsteiner, president of the port commission, thanked the governor and a host of state and federal elected officials who went to bat on the port's behalf to help it obtain the rail line.
“It makes me feel like it's a team effort from the coast to the center of the state,” Kronsteiner said to a group of about 50 people who attended the ceremony inside American Bridge's fabrication plant.
U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, blasted Fortress Investment Group, the Florida-based company that bought the railroad and its corporate parent RailAmerica in 2007 and shut down the Coos Bay line the same year because of long-standing safety concerns over conditions inside tunnels.
“We had a hedge fund that didn't care about railroads. They wanted to make a quick buck,” he said.
He said it was a big jump to have the port buy the line and arrange to have rail service restored between Coos Bay and Eugene.
“It's like rebuilding American, and we're starting right here,” DeFazio said.
State Rep. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, praised Douglas County Commissioner Susan Morgan for establishing a southwestern Oregon transportation committee that sought to promote economic opportunities by improving transportation infrastructure.
The committee was formed while Morgan was a member of the House and after her Republican Party lost control of the chamber. Roblan said she worked in a bipartisan manner to bring improvements to the entire region.
The port earlier received $8 million from the federal government and $4 million from the state to help finance the $16.6 million purchase of the rail line. The rest of the money was obtained through loans taken out by the port.
In addition, the state provided $2.6 million in lottery funds to help pay for repairs, and the federal government chipped in $2.5 million in stimulus grants.
Port Executive Director Jeffrey Bishop said the port hopes to have the rail line ready to operate sometime next year.
Companies such as American Bridge and Roseburg Forest Products have been forced to pay higher shipping costs to transport their products by truck.
In American Bridge's case, some of its steel pieces are so large they cannot be shipped by truck, and the company has been hampered in bidding on projects it had no way to deliver components to, plant manager Fred Jacquot said.
Morgan praised the port for working through challenges that could have derailed the project at several different points. It will be a relief, she said, to see the line back up and running.
“The goal posts are right there in sight,” Morgan said.