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State panel set to fund projects

Dock improvements would ease coal, oil shipments.


The Oregon Transportation Commission is set to approve $42 million in state bonds for 37 nonhighway projects, including three proposed to ease the movement of coal and oil through the state.

The commission has scheduled action on the latest round of Connect Oregon projects at its meeting Aug. 22 in Ontario. The five-member panel oversees the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Connect Oregon, which funds projects other than highways and bridges, began in 2005. In each of the first three rounds, lawmakers authorized $100 million, and in the 2011-12 round, just $40 million, all from bonds with a 20-year lifespan. Projects must start within six months of approval, and the state releases its share when they are completed.

Public comment is closed. The commission heard from 114 people at a six-hour hearing July 17 in Salem. It also received written comments from 77 people and nonduplicated messages from about 6,000, mostly on petitions. Projects also were reviewed by several panels.

Most of the public comments focused on just three projects, all of which are recommended for a share of the lottery-backed bonds that pay for Connect Oregon projects.

One project is in line for $2 million, matched by $3 million from a subsidiary of Ambre Energy, the Australian company seeking state and federal permits to export coal. The money would be spent on Berth 2 at the Port of St. Helens in Columbia City, which would receive coal mined in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana and moved by rail to Boardman. Barges at the Port of Morrow would use a proposed coal-loading dock, which awaits permits, to take the coal via the Columbia River to the Port of St. Helens for shipment overseas.

The other project is in line for $2 million, matched by $4.6 million from Global Partners, which owns an ethanol plant near Berth 1 at the Port of St. Helens. The company plans to expand shipments of crude oil pumped from the Bakken field in North Dakota and carried by rail to the port.

Advocates say the projects would enable ocean-going ships to use the deep-water port for imports and exports, and foster job growth. Critics say the projects would constitute de facto approval of the coal and oil shipments.

A third project is in line for $3 million, matched with $2.3 million from other sources, to separate 2,100 feet of rail line down the middle of A Street in Rainier from vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Two crossings would close and five more would be upgraded.

Advocates say it’s a matter of safety. Critics say it would enable trains to move faster through Rainier to reach the Port of St. Helens.

The port projects ranked sixth and seventh, and the rail separation project 23rd, on the list of 37 proposed for funding.

The list includes money for less-debated work at two TriMet MAX stations, the Port of Portland and the city of Tualatin.

The list began with 104 projects totaling $124 million in requests, three times what is available in this round.

The Oregon Constitution reserves fuel taxes and vehicle fees for highways and bridges.

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