Oregon Iron Works, one of three companies that would be negatively impacted by the lower bridge height of a new Columbia River Crossing bridge, is close to reaching a deal that would allow it to remain at its Vancouver location, the company said Tuesday.
“Oregon Iron Works is in the final phases of reaching a mitigation agreement with Oregon and Washington on the impact that the height of the (Interstate 5) replacement bridge will have on our business,” the company said in a written statement. “We are optimistic about reaching an agreement that will enable Oregon Iron Works to maintain and strengthen our operations at the Columbia Business Center in Vancouver.”
Ann Lininger, an Oregon Iron Works executive, declined to comment on how soon that agreement may be finalized. The mitigation negotiations are bound by a nondisclosure agreement.
The existing I-5 Bridge lift span allows 178 feet of clearance for ships when the bridge is lifted. As proposed, the CRC would allow 116 feet of clearance. Oregon Iron Works and two other companies — Thompson Metal Fab and Greenberry Industrial — say they’d be hurt or even displaced by the CRC as planned because they would no longer be able to ship some massive projects by barge. However, they publicly support the CRC and could benefit from its construction.
Gov. Jay Inslee raised the prospect of mitigation on Monday, saying the CRC was close to reaching a deal with one company, which he did not name.
“We are very, very close to an agreement with one of (the companies),” Inslee said during a press conference Monday, the first day of a special legislative session in Olympia. “We have more work to do with the others.”
Inslee and many Democratic legislators are hoping to pass a transportation package that would raise taxes and fees to pay for several of the state’s transportation needs, including Washington’s $450 million share of the CRC. Senate conservatives have been hesitant to support that package, and some have suggested stripping the CRC from the list of projects the transportation package would pay for.
The $3.4 billion project would replace the I-5 Bridge, update nearby freeway interchanges, and extend light rail from Portland into Vancouver.
The three companies, all located in the Columbia Business Center employed a combined 1,300 people in 2012. The former Kaiser Shipyard site upstream from Interstate 5 has infrastructure and capacity unrivaled in the region.
Thompson and Oregon Iron Works are both in the bridge-building business, and representatives of both companies confirmed they could bid to help build the very project that threatens them now.
“I am confident we can design a package that will solve the problems of the upriver employers before this bridge is built,” Inslee said Monday.
As for Greenberry, the company also operates a facility in Corvallis, Ore., and would benefit from sending more freight over a rebuilt I-5 corridor. But losing the capacity to deliver large-scale projects underneath the new bridge would deliver a major blow to the company, Greenberry representatives have said.
Greenberry and Thompson have indicated they would relocate if properly compensated. Oregon Iron Works, which owns its land and building outright, is less inclined to move. Oregon Iron Works typically employes between 70 and 110 employees at its Vancouver plant.
Also on Monday, state Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, said CRC mitigation costs would be more wisely spent on a new bridge design that better accommodates the three businesses.
“If we could take that money and make a better project where those businesses wouldn’t have to relocate to Corpus Christi, Texas, or Louisiana, then I think that you could get there, but I think anything that moves those businesses out of the area is going to be problematic,” Rivers said during a separate press conference Monday. She later added: “I do not see a transportation package this year that includes funding for the Columbia River Crossing.”
CRC planners initially designed a bridge with just 95 feet of clearance over the Columbia River, far less than those companies need to ship their largest products underneath it. Scolded by the U.S. Coast Guard and others, CRC officials scrambled to come up with a 116-foot-high design late last year. Going any higher, planners believe, would slow traffic and drastically raise costs for the structure and its ramps. Now they’re hoping that plan passes muster with the Coast Guard.
The special legislative session, which convened after state lawmakers failed to reach a budget agreement during the regular session, may last 30 days. If an agreement isn’t reached in that time, legislators may enter another special session. If lawmakers don’t pass a new state budget by June 30, the state could face a government shutdown.
Columbian staff writer Eric Florip contributed to this report.
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