Balance arrives at public podiums

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

Published:

 

Have the Hounds of Whinerville met their match? Perhaps temporarily, and on one particular battlefield: the Columbia River Crossing. But never underestimate the durability of the chronic complainers who camp out at public meetings.

Here in Clark County, the Hounds of Whinerville are a leashless confederation of contrarians who could also be described as NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard), CAVE (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) and my personal favorite: BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything). Make no mistake, their disdain for progress is as vigorous as their contempt for a three-minute timer.

Lately, though, the Hounds have run up against some people who are actually for something, well-dressed and mannerly folks who actually smile when they address local governments. These speakers don’t have their hair on fire. Their meticulously prepared remarks fall well within three minutes, and their blood pressure throbs far below the danger zone.

With the Hounds, you’re never sure whom or how many they represent. But these new, more polite and positive speakers gladly disclose that they represent about 1,100 local businesses that employ about 40,000 people.

Last summer, members of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce decided they were fed up with all the anti-bridge rhetoric from a small but loud group of grumblers. In July, the GVCC sent a letter to county commissioners reporting that, for the third consecutive year, “our membership has ranked the CRC project as their highest priority.” The letter was signed by Kim Capeloto, who at the time was GVCC president and CEO. He later took a job at a local bank and has been replaced by Kelly Parker.

The rational perspective

Then GVCC members started showing up at meetings of the Vancouver City Council, the C-Tran board of directors and the Southwest Regional Transportation Council. These speakers — who represent not only the GVCC but the local businesses they lead or where they work — have included Jeff Woodside (Nutter Corp. construction), Don Russo (Schwabe, Williamson and Wyatt legal firm), Tim Schauer (MacKay & Sposito engineers), Jonathan Avery (Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center), Daniel Kirkwood (Big Al’s bowling and entertainment center), Eric Olmsted (On Line Support computers and technology) and Rhona Sen Hoss (community partnerships manager at The Columbian).

The lone complaint I’ve got against these people is they don’t provide much fodder for the columnist who is continually amused by the podium-pounding xenophobes and their thunderous oratory. Civil discourse by the GVCC folks rarely makes headlines.

But some of their talking points are worth repeating. They favor the Columbia River Crossing because it will generate 16,000 jobs during the six-year project, because it will spur economic development along the Interstate 5 corridor, and because it will expedite the annual movement of 2.3 million trucks hauling $26 million in goods with a local payroll of $3.2 billion. They also remind these local governments that more than 66,000 local residents work in the freight industry.

GVCC members know that, without a new bridge, the six hours of daily congestion will double and bridge lifts will continue to bring traffic to a screeching halt almost daily. And the lingering result will be businesses looking elsewhere to expand or build.

GVCC members understand that current freeway interchanges are dangerously tight and ramps are too short.

They view tolls the same way they view taxes: regrettable but necessary. They know that two-thirds of the bridge traffic is local, so to expect a local contribution to the construction of a new bridge is reasonable.

But beyond the stats and facts, they know that a better bridge will mean a better quality of life as commute times are reduced.

After the GVCC speakers make these points, they smile, thank the public officials and yield the podium back to the Hounds. And that’s when the TV-watching columnist perks up because, hey, it’s back to showtime!