OROVILLE – Some 100 new jobs may soon be created along a newly designated Heavy Haul Corridor along a five mile stretch of Highway 97 from the Canadian border to the Reman and Reload facility just south of Oroville, thanks to a bill that was recently signed into law by Gov. Christine Gregoire.
Substitute Senate Bill 6857, “State Route Number 97,” provides a “heavy haul designation” for the highway, which will allow trucks bringing wood products across the border to be fully loaded, according to North Central Washington Resource Conservation and Development Vice President, Chris Branch.
“Without the designation, only partially loaded trucks were allowed to cross the border,” Branch said. “Now, fully loaded trucks can be reloaded onto rail freight cars at the Reman and Reload station and continue by rail to a variety of businesses in Eastern and Western Washington,” he said.
Branch, who helped facilitate the successful legislation, said the bill requires no additional funding, but will create an estimated 100 new jobs in North Central Washington as additional shifts are hired to load, process, and handle the increased shipments.
“The Heavy Haul Corridor is not expected to create additional truck traffic, either,” he said. “The difference is that the trucks already crossing the border can now do so with full loads.”
The Bill, introduced by Seventh District Senator Bob Morton came through both the Senate and House with unanimous approval. This Bill was supported and worked on throughout the current session by a host of legislators, including Sen. Dan Swecker of Olympia, Sen. Linda Evans-Parlette of Wenatchee and Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen of Camano Island, Chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee.
The successful effort to establish the Heavy Haul Corridor was initiated with the VIA 97 International Alliance Organization. VIA 97 focuses on the promotion of trade, transportation and tourism along the HWY 97 Corridor from Enderby, B.C. to Wenatchee.
Mark Bordwell, manager of Oroville Reload and Reman, gives much of the credit for the new designation to Branch, who is Oroville’s City Planner. Oroville Reman and Reload is a subsidiary of Canadian-based Gorman Brothers Lumber. The Oroville business manufactures specialty dimensional lumber products as well as loading products trucked down from Canada onto rail cars. They can also take products that arrive by rail and load them on to trucks for transport into Canada.
“This has been a long time coming, it will help secure rail line, Cascade and Columbia River Railroad, and in the long haul should mean more employees at our company in the future,” said Bordwell, who once predicted immediate increases in jobs, but due to the downturn in lumber sales says the new jobs will come later.
“Were busy, but right now the timber industry is kind of like the apple industry and has had a downturn…. We’ve gotta work and we’ve gotta tighten our belts and sharpen our pencils,” Bordwell said.
For Oroville Reman and Reload the heavy haul corridor makes the company more competitive with similar businesses along the forty-ninth parallel, Bordwell explains.
“We will be more competitive with other reloads from Sumas to Montana in areas that already have heavy haul designations,” he said.
“It makes the railway more secure and makes it easier to find more business. We need more business to get the rail line to get back to five day a week service. They’ve been down to two or three days a week.”
Although Bordwell said he and his company first started pursuing the designation in the mid-1990s, most of the progress has come in the last year and a half.
“The designation is good for us, it’s good for Zosel’s (Lumber) it’s good for Oroville Transit and it’s good for town,” Bordwell said. “Gorman Brothers and I will be focusing on working with the people we have historically dealt with and getting new products.”
Despite the downturn in the lumber industry the Oroville business and its parent company have not been idle. “Last week Oroville Reman and Reload moved about a million and a half board feet. In ’07 it was just shy of 70 million board feet through all of Gorman Brothers,” he said
“This is the type of cross-border cooperation that supports local business in both countries, is good for the economy and just plain makes sense,” said VIA 97 Chairman and Mayor of Osoyoos, John Slater.
“This seemingly simple Bill will have far reaching positive economic effects,” said Ken Stanton, Douglas County Commissioner and Chairman of the North Central Washington Economic Development District.
“The NCWEDD was proud to offer our full support of this Bill and want to personally thank Chris Branch and the VIA 97 organization in having the dedication to see this through,” he adds.
More information about the NCWRC&D, NCWEDD or the VIA 97 organization can be found at www.ncwrcd.org, www.ncwedd.com and www.via97.org.