John Laird: Focusing the fire extinguisher on complaints about CRC

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

Published:

 

Today's accompanying mug shot illustrates the horrid consequences of repeatedly setting one's hair on fire. Like Obama, I'm not the strapping young Muslim socialist I used to be and, alas, growing bangs is out of the question.

This scorched scalp has not prevented other people from continually igniting their coiffures and going all pyrotechnic over the Columbia River Crossing.

Newsroom cohorts are familiar with my frequent rejoinder, "Buy him (or her) an aquarium." It's my subtle hint that too much time is spent fixated on one problem, and a nice hobby might be therapeutic. Maybe whack a bucket of golf balls at a driving range. (Speaking of which, I understand Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart — after last week's board time — is now about 20 yards longer off the tee.)

Among multiple CRC fires that I've had to douse in recent weeks are the third-bridge theory (Oregon leaders would never allow a third bridge, and it would wouldn't solve the I-5 problem anyway) and the misguided mantra that we can't build a new bridge until the Rose Quarter bottleneck is relieved (if we adopted that theory, we'd never build any bridges).

Comes now the need to train my fire extinguisher on another CRC conflagration, the one that goes something like this: "Boy, howdy, there's a ton of unnecessary pork getting packed into The Boondoggle That's Being Shoved Down Our Throat."

Simmer down, Sparky. Do some homework. You can start by reading a March 26 letter from CRC Project Director Nancy Boyd to U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler. Boyd answers many of the congresswoman's questions in detail, including these four examples of off-site costs that are related to the CRC.

Hair fire 1: "They're building a stupid train barn six miles from the bridge! Egads!"

Well, at least you got the distance right. According to Boyd, the "facility will accommodate both the added trains from the Portland to Milwaukie project and the extension of light rail to Vancouver. TriMet and CRC will share the expansion costs." In other words, the new building is related to the new bridge.

Hair fire 2: "We also have to pay for improvements to the Steel Bridge in downtown Portland!"

True, but might you be interested in why? Boyd wrote that light rail trains to Clark County will cross this bridge. "Modifications to the Steel Bridge would improve the existing light rail transit track and electrical system, and increase the overall system capacity by allowing increased travel speeds and therefore more trains per hour," she noted.

Hair fire 3: "Here's another oinker for pork lovers. The CRC wants us to pay for a museum — a 'curation facility' — in the South Barracks of Fort Vancouver!"

A little research reveals that this, too, is necessary. Boyd explained how the CRC will "adversely affect" the historic site and Fort Vancouver Village, with "a loss of visitor access and destruction of portions of the Village." Mitigation of this loss was approved by the feds back in 2011. It includes "treatment of significant archaeological resources through collection and documentation during project construction as well as the rehabilitation of a building" to house required exhibits related to the project's impact on the historic fort.

Hair fire 4: "Oh, and here come the fish lovers. The CRC wants us to pay for fish projects on the Lewis River way up in Washington and the Hood and Sandy rivers in Oregon. Explain that."

Boyd was glad to, writing that the CRC project will affect salmon runs, and laws in both states "require compensatory mitigation sites." But why are these sites so far away, at the Lewis ($10 million), Sandy ($1.75 million) and Hood ($5 million) rivers? Because the "ecosystem benefits provided by (off-site) restoration activities … are immediately available and are greater than could be reasonably achieved at sites near the project."

I don't expect this data to change anyone's mind about the CRC. But as a balding man, I'm proud to say my reporting might save a few beehives and ducktails.