To be woken up and told to be at work to receive a check for $13.5 million must be one of the more pleasant surprises in anyone's career. That is what seems to have happened to Jeffrey Bishop, CEO of Coos Bay port in Oregon.
Surprise it certainly was. The area congressman called it "amazing" and a port official said they were told only when they got to work. The Tiger II grant money will help pay for repairing the 133 miles of rail serving the area, three years after the link was closed because of an unsafe tunnel.
This federal largesse shows that ports have no way of divining how Washington works. Coos Bay had begun to think that its cause was dead in the water and was pondering how to come up with the money.
Another unexpected recipient is Vancouver port in Washington, which gets $10 million, also for a railroad project.
They are two out of seven ports getting almost a quarter of the $557 million infrastructure money under the new Tiger. Top of the list were Miami and Los Angeles.
Both are heavily bulk and breakbulk dependant. Coos Bay handles 3 million tons a year, mostly lumber and wood pellets, and gets 240 vessel calls a year. Vancouver gets 400 vessel calls, while grain accounts for 70 percent of exports and the overall volume split is 80/20 in favor of exports. (Curiously, the port promotes itself as being the only one in the US with two 140-metric ton Liebherr mobile cranes. Is this because they are mobile or because of some other distinction?).
Together, the two make up a strange target for the diminishing amount of Tiger money. A random poll among port execs would probably not have put them in the top 10 of likely winners in the lottery.
Obviously, basic politics comes in. There is probably a tie-up with the November elections and a quid pro quo. (Some Washington DC lobbyist or lawyer gushed in a "doh!" moment about the feds paying attention to freight in the Tiger allocations.)
Aside from this, both deal mostly in exports – one of President Obama's goals is to double exports – and both are bulk orientated. Those would seem to be the clinchers in both cases.
They are also a pointer to the way the US economy has changed. Now, it's all about primary and raw material exports, unthinkable 20 years ago when finished goods ruled the roost.