Cities allow residents to air views on CRC

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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Despite having little say in how the Columbia River Crossing takes shape, three of Clark County's small cities are looking to their residents for guidance on the project.

In the past two weeks, Battle Ground, Yacolt and Washougal have all taken strides to see how residents feel about the $3.4 billion bridge by holding or planning public forums on the project, or taking an official stance on its future.

But for some, the work is only adding to the rancor surrounding the most controversial regional project in recent memory. On Saturday, Washougal will hold a 9 a.m. town hall meeting at City Hall to discuss transportation projects, including the CRC. There's no guarantee the city will take a stance on the project, Mayor Sean Guard said.

Only Washougal residents will be allowed to speak at the meeting, he said.

"The purpose of these town hall meetings is so we can hear from constituents," Guard said.

City Administrator David Scott said CRC critics will also speak at the Washougal meeting, including Clark County Commissioner David Madore, forensic accountant Tiffany Couch and John Charles, president of the Oregon-based Cascade Policy Institute.

Part of the inspiration for Washougal's town hall meeting came from state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, who sent a letter to elected officials suggesting they take a position on the controversial span. Benton is one of the staunchest critics of the CRC in the state Legislature.

Washougal officials said they also wanted to use the meeting to address other transportation projects that are important to the city.

Battle Ground held its own forum Thursday to gather feedback from residents on the CRC. The city plans to use the comments to pass a resolution on what residents would like to see for the bridge.

And in Yacolt, the Town Council on Monday evening approved a draft resolution opposing the CRC.

Mayor Jeff Carothers said the main sticking point is light rail.

In addition to replacing the I-5 Bridge, the CRC would also extend light rail into Vancouver and rebuild freeway interchanges on both sides of the Columbia River.

"We're not opposed to having a bridge necessarily," Carothers said. "But we want to make sure the bridge is something that is a benefit to 100 percent of the customers."

The renewed interest in the CRC from the cities comes as the Oregon and Washington legislatures address the project's funding.

The Oregon Legislature has already approved a $450 million funding package for the state's share of the project. Washington's Legislature is slated to vote on a transportation package that includes funding for the CRC later in the session.

So with such important decisions being made at the state level, why are the cities eliciting feedback on the project now?

Guard has an opinion on that.

"It's just noise," he said. "But I understand people like to generate noise."

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://twitter.com/col_smallcities;tyler.graf@columbian.com.