UPDATE: CRC inks mitigation deal with Thompson Metal Fab

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

Published:

Updated: August 29, 2013, 9:16 PM

 

The Columbia River Crossing has reached a mitigation agreement with Thompson Metal Fab, giving the project inked deals to compensate all three major river manufacturers affected by its proposed bridge height.

That is, if the CRC is actually built.

The governors of Washington and Oregon announced the deal with Thompson in a joint statement Thursday. Project officials reached deals with Oregon Iron Works and Greenberry Industrial earlier this year.

The three agreements — details of which have not been disclosed, despite multiple requests by The Columbian and others — would give millions of taxpayer dollars to the three companies negatively impacted by a new Interstate 5 Bridge, planned at 116 feet high. The existing bridge allows for 178 feet of clearance when lifted.

The latest agreement comes as project officials press on despite receiving no funding from the Washington Legislature this year. The project office began shutting down in July, and Washington has almost entirely withdrawn itself from the project.

Effort to revive project

CRC work is now being funded by Oregon, where some leaders have led an effort to revive the project once declared dead.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and others continue to push for an Oregon-led CRC that would build essentially the same project — with light rail to Vancouver and tolls — without any freeway work north of state Highway 14 in Washington, at least for now.

The pared-down CRC could cost $2.75 billion, backers say. But supporters are scrambling to come up with answers to the many financial questions still surrounding the project.

Thursday’s announcement from Kitzhaber and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee continued to describe the CRC as “the joint Oregon and Washington Columbia River Crossing.” That’s despite Washington being authorized to spend no money on the project, and moving all of its staff out of the CRC’s downtown Vancouver offices. And that status hasn’t changed, Inslee spokesman David Postman said Thursday.

“We just don’t have authorization to spend money on this side of the border,” Postman said.

Oregon took the lead on negotiating with Thompson, Postman said. CRC leaders have said the assumption is that compensation deals would be paid out without money from Washington.

The CRC has pursued mitigation talks with Thompson, Greenberry and Oregon Iron Works as it attempts to secure a crucial bridge permit from the U.S. Coast Guard. All three companies operate facilities at Vancouver’s Columbia Business Center. All three say their largest industrial products wouldn’t fit under a 116-foot-high bridge.

For Thompson, the mitigation deal means the company “probably will” relocate if the bridge is built, said spokesman Tom Hunt. It’s unclear where that new location would be, he said. But the company hopes to keep its jobs in Clark County, he added.

The CRC planned to send the mitigation agreements to the Coast Guard this week. They don’t guarantee approval of the bridge permit but do appear to improve the CRC’s chances. The Coast Guard is expected to make its decision by Sept. 30.

Both Inslee and Kitzhaber hailed the news of an agreement with Thompson. But all three mitigation deals are only valid if the CRC materializes.

“Nothing happens with it until there’s an actual project and a Coast Guard permit,” Postman said.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro; eric.florip@columbian.com.