U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, and three other House Republicans on Wednesday called for a full study of the economic impacts of Columbia River Crossing, citing “continued concerns” with the $3.5 billion megaproject.
In a letter to the U.S. Coast Guard, the lawmakers highlighted navigation and commerce worries for river users upstream of the proposed Interstate 5 Bridge replacement. Squeezing those operations would mean millions of dollars in lost revenue for Columbia River manufacturers, they wrote, plus extra costs for mitigation.
“We cannot cavalierly dismiss the impacts to the businesses, current and future, which depend upon the free flow of river commerce to survive,” the letter reads. “Neither can we dismiss the impacts to our local economy, nor the jobs that would cease, should these companies be forced to relocate or close their doors.”
In addition to Herrera Beutler, the letter was signed by Eastern Washington Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Doc Hastings, plus Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador.
The Coast Guard must approve a bridge permit for the CRC to move forward. Project leaders expected to finalize a permit application for a 116-foot-high fixed span this week. 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 effect far fewer river users, but it still wouldn’t be high enough to avoid all impacts. Among the largest manufacturing operations on the Columbia River are Thompson Metal Fab, Greenberry Industries and Oregon Iron Works.
The letter asks the Coast Guard to conduct a full study of those economic impacts before issuing a possible bridge permit. If the CRC’s application passes muster, that could happen as soon as this fall.
Economic impacts are one factor the agency will consider in the review process, but not the only factor, said Capt. Michael Gardiner of the Coast Guard’s 13th District in Seattle.
“Our primary concern is the impact to the reasonable needs of navigation,” Gardiner said. “Anytime you put up a bridge, we look at what are the impacts to users of the waterway.”
Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, who chairs the Senate’s transportation appropriations subcommittee, said an additional study would be a waste of taxpayer money, and she called the lawmakers’ letter a thinly veiled attempt to kill the CRC.
“Those in Washington, D.C., dragging their feet on this critically important project need to explain why they are spending so much time backtracking and so little time helping to support the state and federal investments that will be needed to replace this bridge and keep the region competitive,” Murray’s spokesman, Matt McAlvanah, wrote by email. “The truth is that this bridge has been studied and planned for over a decade, including unprecedented local engagement with river users, businesses, and residents.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, Gardiner said the Coast Guard had not yet received the CRC’s bridge permit application. He expected his agency would respond to the letter “relatively soon.”
CRC officials have said they plan to file the permit application by the end of January.
Stevie Mathieu contributed to this story.
Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro; firstname.lastname@example.org.