Two of three manufacturers ink deal with CRC over I-5 bridge height

Negotiations still under way with third firm, Thompson Metal Fab

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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Mitigation deal set with two of three manufacturers

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The Columbia River Crossing has inked mitigation deals with two of the three major manufacturers negatively impacted by the project’s proposed bridge height, state officials announced Tuesday.

Greenberry Industrial and Oregon Iron Works had already indicated they were close to agreements with the CRC in recent weeks. Those are now a done deal, though the companies and project officials disclosed few details about the agreements on Tuesday.

The third company, Thompson Metal Fab, remains in negotiations with the CRC.

The CRC has said it expects to use millions of taxpayer dollars to compensate the three upriver companies who say they’d be squeezed by the $3.4 billion Interstate 5 Bridge replacement, which would reduce the maximum clearance under the freeway. The existing I-5 Bridge allows 178 feet of head room when lifted. The CRC as proposed would be 116 feet high — too low for the fabricators’ largest products to pass under the span.

CRC officials have previously estimated that the three companies, which all operate facilities at the Columbia Business Center in Vancouver, could take a combined hit of as much as $116 million in lost profits due to the new bridge. But it remains unclear just what the project agreed to give Greenberry and Oregon Iron Works as mitigation.

In a statement, Oregon Iron Works said its agreement will allow the company to “adapt our business to adjust to the planned bridge height,” and to “protect existing jobs and continue growing our manufacturing operation in Vancouver.”

Company vice president Ann Lininger confirmed that Oregon Iron Works plans to stay in its existing facility at the Columbia Business Center. The company owns its site there, and has previously indicated it was not interested in relocating.

Greenberry also disclosed few details, but confirmed that a deal has been reached.

“This agreement will enable Greenberry to maintain its proven business model and will protect critical manufacturing jobs for our employees in both states,” the company said in a statement.

As for Thompson Metal Fab, the company continues to negotiate with the project and state officials, Thompson spokesman Tom Hunt said Tuesday. But he stressed that nothing should be inferred from Thompson continuing talks while its two neighbors sign deals. The negotiations are being carried out separately, and the companies are “very different animals” with very different interests, Hunt said.

All three fabricators, while raising concerns about the CRC, have publicly said they support the project. Mitigation discussions have taken place behind closed doors, bound by nondisclosure agreements signed in 2012.

The two signed mitigation deals come as the U.S. Coast Guard considers whether to approve a crucial bridge permit that the CRC needs to move forward. The project filed its bridge permit application in January. Told by the Coast Guard that it hadn’t submitted enough information, the CRC sent additional documents in April. The Coast Guard expects to make its decision by Sept. 30.

The project may still face an uphill battle in Olympia, where Washington lawmakers are debating whether to commit $450 million as their state’s share of the project, which would also extend light rail into Vancouver and rebuild freeway interchanges in Washington and Oregon. CRC leaders hope to start construction in late 2014.

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