By MIKE BRIDGES
LONGVIEW (Oct. 8, 2015) — There’s a major port revitalization project proposed in my community. I’m excited about what it means for our local Building Trades members and what it means to my hometown.
This $680 million dollar project will employ more than 1,000 Building Trades members during its construction. It’s located on a 1941-era, shut-down smelter site that had abruptly closed in 2001. The site had become misused since the smelter shut down in 2001, which is sad because I know a lot of people that were proud to work there when it was operating. A new company said they’d clean up the site. Currently this company provides family-wage jobs for local families at its existing port. This company is engineering a world-class port expansion and reached out to us to ensure skilled union labor would build it by signing a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with us.
What’s not to love?
Unfortunately, there are people who don’t love this project solely because of the commodity it will handle: coal. I am talking about Millennium Bulk Terminals in Longview. It is a trans-loading facility that is on Year 4 of a permitting process that should take 18 months.
I’m sure there are many of you that assume I support the project because of the jobs it will bring to my members. That is important, but I also support the project because of what I have seen firsthand as a resident of the Longview community onsite, and what I know of the people running the project. I would like to tell that side of the story to all of you who don’t live in our community.
First off, it was Millennium that approached our Building Trades Council to discuss collaborating on a PLA. Usually we are the ones to initiate the discussion with the company and explain the value of a PLA. Millennium already knew the value. When we negotiated the agreement, we were very firm on the need to utilize local labor and train apprentices. Millennium embraced that value and signed onto it. Today they have an electrical apprentice in their existing workforce that receives additional instruction, and skills at one of our state-of-the-art training centers.
As other businesses have explored new opportunities in Cowlitz County, the Millennium management team has personally introduced me to those business leaders and recommended to them that they also negotiate a PLA for those projects. They also support the Construction and Trades Fair sponsored by the local school district.
Four years ago, I watched a debate hosted by the League of Women Voters about the Millennium project. Lots of discussion was held, but the thing I remember most was the President of Millennium saying they would clean up the site and fix the existing environmental problems there. The place was heaped with junk and the smelter landfills had never been properly closed.
In the past four years, Millennium has:
● Transformed the workplace culture to value employees, safety, and environment — they just achieved three years without a reportable injury and more than 4 years without an environmental citation.
● Donated an enormous amount of furniture to Habitat for Humanity, the new Veterans’ Center, and other charities.
● Forged forward with the regulatory process to clean up the old smelter.
● Sponsored local baseball, rodeo, food drives, civic groups, etc. Including a recent donation of $20,000 to Meals on Wheels.
So from my perspective, Millennium is the kind of community partner we want and need. When it comes to the coal export terminal, there are certain things I believe to be true:
● Washington has strict environmental laws.
● Renewable energy is good, but fossil fuels are going to be in use for a long time.
● Millennium’s target markets of Japan and South Korea are building the most efficient plants to burn coal to make electricity and they import 96% of their energy needs.
● The U.S. has cleaner coal than Asia burns today.
These facts lead me to conclude that Asian countries are going to continue to use coal to generate electricity no matter what we do here for decades to come. Currently Canada receives 2 to 3 trains a day of U.S. coal due to lack of export infrastructure on the West Coast.
The Millennium project and others like it will create thousands of family-wage jobs for workers here in Washington, thus boosting the middle class in our region. I also believe firmly that breaking ground on this project sooner rather than later will also lead to other business opportunities in the region that will aid in growing our current stagnant economy in Southwest Washington. The extensive permitting process for Millennium will ensure that the terminal meets Washington’s strict environmental laws.
I hope this helps shed some light on the commitment, investment, and progress Millennium has made in cleaning up the old site, and the strong community support we have for Building Millennium Bulk Terminal in Longview.
Mike Bridges is President of the Longview/Kelso Building and Construction Trades Council. Learn more about the Millennium project here.