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Infrastructure Funds for Port Could Boost Rural OR Community

Funding from the infrastructure measure Congress passed last year could benefit a struggling rural community in Oregon. Lawmakers in the state have requested part of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act go toward modernizing the port at Coos Bay.

The region has seen a decline in timber harvest. Supporters argued a thriving port could bring jobs back, which also could benefit the local school system.

Teri Jones, a school librarian in Coos Bay, said kids growing up in Coos Bay typically have to move away after they graduate, but an upgraded port could change it.

“Whether they’re going to school or another occupation, they’re probably going to have to start out somewhere else, because there are no jobs here,” Jones pointed out. “This is a really exciting opportunity.”

Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have asked the Biden administration to make funds available for the Coos Bay port. Earlier this month, the administration developed a plan to reduce red tape and accelerate federal permitting and environmental reviews for projects.

Valerie Eiselien, special education assistant in Coos Bay, said the region needs to be cautious with how it handles the port upgrade, so it does not disturb the sensitive and unique estuary in the area. The facility is designed to be the first ship-to-rail port facility on the West Coast to cut down on emissions from trucking.

Eiselien thinks it would be worth it if the economics ultimately benefit local families and their kids.

“Funding should always be based around them. They are our next generation, you know, that are going to run our companies and our businesses,” Eiselien contended. “Let’s educate them and show them that this is their future.”

Jones believes kids in Coos Bay would benefit from a productive port for a simple reason.

“When we talk about school success, we tend to look at test scores and attendance,” Jones noted. “I’ve always maintained, personally, that regardless of the programs and curriculum you implement, if you raise the socioeconomic threshold of a community, you will raise test scores.”

Supporters of the port also said it would help with supply-chain issues on the West Coast. The upgrade could make the facility one of the busiest in the country.

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