The Big Divide: Competing political wills block the way

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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Talk with reporters Aaron Corvin and Eric Florip at 11 am Tuesday in a live chat about The Columbian's series.

Clark County's political and business leaders who've steered the county's growth strategy for decades are under fire by critics girding to capsize their priorities. Most business and civic groups, as well as local governments, see a new Interstate 5 bridge as a main ingredient of Clark County's future prosperity. But their critics aim to sink the proposed CRC, in part because the $3.4 billion Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project will bring light rail into Clark County. If they're successful, CRC opponents will tear into the very fabric of the leadership elite's sense of what the county needs to thrive.

The impasse over the Columbia River Crossing spills into other areas of civic life -- most notably, in discussions of how Clark County should grow as it recovers from the bruising economic crash. The dustup churns with everything from the clash of urban and rural interests to rival beliefs about what role government should play in the economy. The political power of CRC critics was amplified in last year's election of businessman David Madore, a staunch light-rail critic, to the Clark County Board of Commissioners. Madore associates Portland with high-density development, noise, gobs of traffic, skyscrapers. "We respect their freedom to be who they are," Madore said of Portland. "Let Portland be weird, Madore said. " That's OK. I'm OK with that. Just not over here."

But Madore also concedes that he's scarcely read the 133-page growth plan the Columbia River Economic Development Council is heading up and that long-established leaders, like Port of Vancouver Commissioner Brian Wolfe, find so vital to the county's future. It's a plan that Clark County's longtime economic development leaders say they'll pursue, regardless of the fractiousness of the Columbia River Crossing project.

First of a three part series. Tomorrow: Prospects for the CRC, and what Clark County residents think of the project. An exclusive Columbian public opinion poll. Tuesday: With or without the Columbia River Crossing, where do we go from here?

A full version of this story is available in today's print edition. Also, this series will be available for purchase Tuesday on amazon.com for Kindle e-readers and apps.

Watch "The Big Divide - Part 1" by web producer Paul Suarez.