Letter sent to Coast Guard not signed by Stonier

GOP lawmakers say bridge height of 116 feet is still too low

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian Assistant Metro Editor



Contrary to a letter sent to The Columbian on Tuesday by the state House Republican Caucus, Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, did not ask the U.S. Coast Guard to require a clearance higher than 116 feet for the Columbia River Crossing.

A new version of the letter, distributed today, contains the signatures of eight Republican legislators. It states that the planned CRC bridge height of 116 feet “prevents many of our current waterway users from continued use of the river and severely restricts the possibility of any future growth.”

The letter House Republican Caucus spokesman Kurt Hammond sent The Columbian on Tuesday was a draft, he said by email today. That draft included Stonier’s name typed at the bottom alongside the names of eight Republican legislators.

“I was told they were asking the 14(th), 17(th) and 18 (th) District legislators to sign on and to forward the draft to The Columbian,” Hammond wrote by email. “I wasn’t aware she did not sign. … Since there were no actual signatures on the letter, I didn’t think about clarifying that it was a draft.”

The final version of the letter was sent to The Columbian today. It only contains the names and signatures of state Sens. Ann Rivers, R-La Center; Don Benton, R-Vancouver; and Curtis King, R-Yakima; and State Reps. Brandon Vick, R-Vancouver; Liz Pike, R-Camas; Paul Harris, R-Vancouver; Charles Ross, R-Yakima; and Norm Johnson, R-Naches.

Hammond said he emailed a draft of the letter to The Columbian on Tuesday to make the news organization aware of an upcoming story.

Stonier said she was asked to sign the letter last week but refused because she did not agree with the letter’s tone, particularly its assertion that building a 116-foot bridge would be detrimental to the economy.

“It just did not reflect how I felt about the project,” Stonier said. She said she wants to protect the tax dollars that have already gone into designing the bridge, and redesigning the bridge to make it taller would be a waste of that money.

“That’s not good for the economy,” Stonier said. “It’s not good for businesses. It’s not good for our families. It’s not good for safety.”

Stonier said she will work on ways to mitigate the impacts on businesses that would be negatively effected by the 116-foot span.

According to a press release distributed today by Republicans, a bridge height of 116 feet “would not accommodate many upriver users, including Greenberry Industries and Thompson Metal Fab. Greenberry has increased revenue more than $150 million and added more than 300 new employees since 2010.”

Rep. Harris said a height of 116 feet is counterproductive to job growth.

“Not only are we impacting current employers, but we are limiting the ability of future tenants,” Harris said, “the proposed height is not a plan for the future. It would hinder our business climate and would limit opportunity for people who are looking for work and want to work.”

Before the CRC plan to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge can move forward, the Coast Guard must approve a bridge permit for the project. CRC leaders are planning a 116-foot-high fixed span, while the current I-5 drawbridge allows for as much as 178 feet of clearance when lifted.

The CRC had long planned on a new bridge with 95 feet of headroom, before the Coast Guard and others rejected that height as too low. Subsequent surveys have shown that a 116-foot-high bridge would affect far fewer river users, but it still wouldn’t be high enough to avoid all impacts.

The letter legislators sent to the Coast Guard did not specify a preferred bridge height, but it did point out that the Interstate 205 bridge allows 144 feet of clearance, the Bridge of the Gods in Skamania County has 140 feet of clearance, and the Hood River Bridge provides 149 feet of clearance.

Eric Florip contributed to this report.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com