Portland Vancouver Junction Railroad Achieves Permitting Success After Long Fight

For more than a decade, Portland Vancouver Junction Railroad (PVJR) worked tirelessly for a change in Washington state law that could help attract new economic development to their serving region. PVJR operates on Clark County's Chelatchie Prairie Railroad, moving a mix of aggregates, sand, rail and food products, as well as other commodities. When taking over the railroad in 2004, PVJR President Eric Temple's main goal was to improve the railroad in any way possible. Moving a mere 43 rail cars in 2003, Temple knew something more needed to be done.

“We met with Clark County and told them that to make this railroad successful, we needed land,” Temple said.

The land in question fell under the state of Washington's Growth Management Act (GMA), which was intended to "reduce urban sprawl," or protect agricultural land from industrial development. In 2005, Clark County started the process of re-zoning that land from agricultural to industrial use to allow development. The county did not want "heavy" industrial land or "light" industrial land, so PVJR and the county coined the term "railroad industrial," a compromise that would hopefully attract new rail-served businesses. The Permit Review Board denied the first proposal by PVJR and Clark County. The second attempt by PVJR and Clark County was also denied during the appeals process. Even in the face of this defeat, the two parties were determined to continue trying.

In 2012, PVJR and Clark County reconsidered their strategy. The new application included a smaller amount of land for re-zoning and also highlighted the re-zoning as an essential step for bringing jobs and tax revenue to Clark County.

"Everybody likes family wage jobs, and this opportunity was rightfully positioned as pro-job/pro-business," Temple said.

The effort to re-zone the land required amending the GMA with legislation signed by the governor. Senate Bill 5517 was initially vetoed over concerns that it was too broad by applying to all counties in the state of Washington. After Senate Bill 5517 was re-written to include only Clark and Okanogan counties, it passed by a large margin in both houses of the Washington State legislature.

After almost thirteen years of hard work, Senate Bill 5517 was signed into law by Governor Inslee on July 7, much to the pleasure of PVJR and Clark County, Washington. While there are a few more steps involved in implementing the bill, PVJR is pleased with the outcome.

"This is a great example of leveraging railroads and the benefits they may bring to the communities, such as economic development and jobs," Temple said. "We want other shortlines to know that somebody has made a crack in the industry when it comes to permitting and that there is hope for this type of change in their own local area."

The new law goes into effect on Oct. 19, and PVJR has already had serious talks with at least a half-dozen potential customers.

"BNSF commends PVJR and Clark County on their efforts to see the passage of Senate Bill 5517 through to the end. We look forward to working with both groups to bring new rail-served businesses and resulting economic growth to the area," said Reeve Geary, regional manager, BNSF economic development.

PVJR's success in this situation provides insight for other shortlines considering how to move beyond barriers to support development on their lines. To learn more about upcoming opportunities or how to bring rail service to your business, please contact Eric Temple at info@pvjr.com or Reeve Geary at Reeve.Geary@bnsf.com.