COOS BAY — Governor Kate Brown got an up-close look at the Coos Bay Rail Link's landmark swing-span bridge over Coos Bay Wednesday morning, then headed for the grand opening of the Coos History Museum in the afternoon.
After starting the day at Marshfield High School, the governor, some aides and state Rep. Caddy McKeown and state Sen. Arnie Roblan boarded hi-rail vehicles in North Bend for a rail journey to the center of the 101-year-old bridge.
As pelicans passed overhead and salmon boats motored below, Port of Coos Bay CEO David Koch told Brown and her staff the history of the local railroad. The line, created in 1916 as a branch of the Southern Pacific, fell into disrepair as lumber shipments waned, changed hands in 1994 and ceased operations in 2007. Faraway investors planned to sell the rails for scrap, but the port negotiated a deal to buy it and operate it as the Coos Bay Rail Link.
Koch explained the combination of federal and state transportation funds and user fees that made it possible to restore the rail line to operation in 2011 and to continue repairs. Local mills, businesses and farmers use the line to send and receive individual carloads of goods such as lumber and feed. Traffic has grown from 2,480 railcar loads in 2012 to 7,509 in 2014.
However, he said, the railroad's long-term viability depends on the development of a port, which would bring in revenue from more profitable unit trains — mile-long trains of a single commodity, such as coal.
After the rail trip, Brown appeared at the grand opening of the Coos History Museum, where hundreds of people were gathered for the ribbon-cutting and a day of entertainment.
Greeting well-wishers, she made her way to the edge of the bay, where Coquille Chief Don Ivy and two canoes full of members of the Coqullle and Confederated Tribes canoe families greeted her with necklaces, a song, and flute music.
Before the ribbon-cutting, Brown made a few remarks about the collaborative efforts that brought the museum into being.
"This project brought together the local fishing community with forestry and the Coquille Tribe (which donated $1 million toward the museum), an alliance that might have seemed unlikely not so long ago," she said.
She also acknowledged the initial gift from Martha Butler — $880,000 worth of Tootsie Roll stock — that planted the seed of the museum, and said that 550 families had contributed to the project. She remarked on the paneling inside the lobby, made of wood donated by the Coquille Tribe and milled by Don Ivy and tribal youth. Then she cut the ribbon to officially open the museum.
After that, it was selfies with more well-wishers and kind words for all — not only for dignitaries and Democrats, but also for Chris Neikirk, who presented Brown with a mounted, poster-size map of what he characterized as the blast zone in the event of an LNG explosion.
She moved to accept it, then apparently compared its dimensions to those of her vehicle.
"Can you email that to me?" she tactfully asked, before her staff ushered her on to the next destination.