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AWB, WSLC support ‘projects of statewide significance’ bill

Mar. 14 UPDATE: The Senate failed to vote upon SB 5805 before Wednesday’s cutoff deadline, so the bill is now dead.

awb-wslcOLYMPIA (Mar. 11, 2013) — The leaders of the Washington State Labor Council (WSLC) and the Association of Washington Business (AWB) have co-signed a letter to state lawmakers urging passage of SB 5805, legislation intended to allow large-scale “projects of statewide significance” to get through the permitting process faster without changing or sacrificing environmental or other regulatory requirements.

The bill began receiving media attention several days ago after environmental groups conducted an email campaign in opposition to SB 5805, suggesting it was about “fast-tracking big industrial projects,” including the controversial Gateway Pacific Terminal project at Cherry Point. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens), denied the bill would have any such effect on the Cherry Point project, but quickly offered to amend his own bill to make that clear.

Now, SB 5805 stands accused of being an effort to fast-track a proposed Jefferson County gravel mine project known as “pit to pier” — one that’s been under review for nearly 12 years now. That project, supported by organized labor, would build a four-mile conveyor belt to a dock in order to move gravel to ships in Hood Canal.

Konopaski-Daren“We have to get past the notion that job creation and environmental protection are necessarily at odds,” said Daren Konopaski, international vice president for the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 302. “The public deserves better. SB 5805 doesn’t preclude environmental requirements or reviews, including local ones. It simply says that qualifying projects of statewide benefit deserve a statewide review.”

The letter co-signed by AWB President Don Brunell and WSLC President Jeff Johnson outlines the key aspects of SB 5805:

— The creation of new full-time jobs becomes a criterion for determining projects of statewide significance;

— Requires local government and all state agencies to work together to expedite the permitting process;

— Does not forego local government involvement, change the local land use permitting process, nor alter any existing “…agency or local government permitting authority or other existing statutory requirements…”

— Allows project developers to pay the staff costs for those local governments with limited budgets or resources (Sec. 4(1)(a) existing law); and

— “…Provides a mechanism for local governments and state federal agencies to perform a coordinated and comprehensive review of such projects…”

The WSLC-AWB letter concludes, “We believe that this bill is in the best interests of our citizens, businesses, workers, economy and environment.”

SB 5805 has passed the Senate Trade and Economic Development Committee and could come to the floor for a vote at any time.

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