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Railex center wins Governor's award, others praise project

   The Port of Walla Walla Railex project is only just finished and already has collected more than a little praise.
    Washington Governor Chris Gregoire selected it for the Governor’s Award for Best Practices in Economic Development. The tribute was one of seven presented at the 2006 Governor’s Economic and Workforce Development Conference.
    Among other things, Railex was cited as an example of non-traditional investment in transportation.
    Port Commission President Paul Schneidmiller said the recognition confirms the importance of the project to the whole state. Jim Kuntz, executive director of the Port, added that the award was also likely inspired by the partnership between public and private agencies that made Railex a reality.

Railex expects to be the destination for trucks hauling fresh produce from a 300-mile radius. Photo by Donna Lasater

   Valoria Loveland, director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture, hailed Railex as “a wonderful tool to get our farmers’ goods to new markets across the country.”
    The President of the Washington Apple Commission, Dave Carlson, says he hopes shippers and buyers will see the value of Railex. “On the long term, we have to do this,” he said. “We can’t continue the massive drain on our oil and diesel supplies.”
    Carlson said retailers are looking for steady deliveries so they don’t have to carry a lot of inventory. “Dependable transportation is a key element to that,” he said.

   Ken Casavant, an agricultural economist and professor at Washington State University, says Railex is as promising as any transportation solution he’s ever seen. “It offers the best of all worlds because it allows the efficiencies of short-haul assembly combined with the efficiencies of long-haul movement.”
    “It’s an economically viable option,” says Jody Easterday, who’s family company is a major Washington State grower and shipper of yellow, red and white onions. “We just have never had this vehicle to allow us to market with this kind of tool.” Her company packs more than three million bags of onions each year.

Big Sky operates overnight maintenance center at WW Regional Airport

   Within minutes after Big Sky Airlines evening flight from Boise to Walla Walla is off-loaded, the aircraft is turned over to a three-man maintenance team that gets it ready for the next morning’s departure.
    The overnight base at Walla Walla Regional Airport is an outcome of Big Sky’s decision earlier this year to provide daily service between Walla Walla and Idaho’s capital city.
    Stan Holm, along with John Hufford and John Murray, are responsible for the service center.
    During their overnight shift. - from approximately 8:30 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. - Holm, Hufford and Murray follow a 130-point guide, checking engines, landing gear, lighting systems, instruments and a multitude of other electrical and mechanical elements that can’t be left to chance.
    Because Big Sky uses its planes on a rotating basis over all its schedules, Holm says the Walla Walla team has the opportunity to see all of the company’s fleet.
    Holm explains that the crew “backs up” Big Sky’s primary maintenance operation in Billings, Montana, where the airline is headquartered. “It’s a nice concept,” he said.
    Port of Walla Walla officials said they didn’t expect the Montana-based airline to establish the local service center, but Port Commission President Paul Schneidmiller says it’s a working example of Big Sky’s commitment to its Walla Walla service.

John Hufford (top), Stan Holm (cockpit) and John Murray take charge of Big Sky airplanes at the company’s Walla Walla Maintenance center. Photos by Lasater

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