OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed a bill Tuesday to loosen restrictions on industrial development near intrastate railroads in rural Eastern Washington, disappointing groups such as the Washington Farm Bureau, which said the legislation would help farm-based economies.
Inslee sided with an environmental group that argued that the legislation would actually threaten farmland.
In a veto message, the governor said the bill might help rural counties develop, but at a cost. “It would undermine our longstanding commitment to preserve working farms and promote our agriculture economy,” he stated.
House Bill 1504 would have allowed rail-dependent industries on land that may now be off-limits because of the state’s Growth Management Act.
Farm Bureau associate director of government relations Mark Streuli said the bill would not have harmed agriculture.
“We’re not talking about prime farmland,” Streuli said. “The land we’re talking about is right along the railroad, not real useful for growing stuff, but it is useful for building stuff that might be useful for agriculture.”
The legislation stemmed from a dispute over industrial development in Clark County. The bill was written to apply to only Clark County west of the Cascade Range, but all counties east of the Cascades.
Amber Carter, lobbyist for the Portland Vancouver Junction Railroad, said the bill would have opened the way for land along the railroad to be rezoned, potentially creating hundreds of industrial jobs in Clark County.
She said Tuesday that she thought the bill was going to be signed after it passed the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-led Senate by wide margins.
The railroad’s president, Eric Temple, said in a written statement that rezoning property near the railroad would generate far more revenue for government.
“The irony is, Gov. Inslee promotes himself as a leader who cares about the environment, wants to create family wage jobs, and supports school funding, as well as other essential services, all of which this bill would achieve,” Temple said.
The environmental group Futurewise fought the bill, and Inslee’s veto message reflected its arguments.
Futurewise state policy director Bryce Yadon said Tuesday that the group was most concerned that land officially designated as agricultural lands of long-term significance would be lost.
“We’re not trying to prevent rural economic development,” he said. “Our concern is that this would take away a resource (land) that’s really at the heart of a growing agricultural economy.”
The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, said Inslee put protecting the Growth Management Act over creating jobs.
“Gov. Inslee has once again shown that job creation and the economic vitality of those citizens who live beyond what he can see from the top of the Seattle Space Needle is just not important to him,” she said in a written statement.
Inslee stated he was “committed to fully supporting the Growth Management Act,” but also supported reviewing the act to see whether rural counties could be given more flexibility to develop.
The House and Senate budget proposals both include $600,000 for such a review as part of creating a “road map to Washington’s future.”
Washington Public Ports Association Executive Director Eric Johnson said in a letter this month to Inslee that the bill would help short-line railroads, which in turn would help farmers and food processors move goods.
“Short-line railroad owners and operators need another tool to be able to pursue business opportunities that will lead to more diverse regional economies.” he wrote.