UPDATE: Herrera Beutler sends legislative message to Coast Guard on CRC

Congresswoman's provision advises agency to consider project's economic impacts

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

Published:

Updated: May 22, 2013, 7:29 PM

 
photoCongresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler moved legislation today that advises the U.S. Coast Guard against approving a permit for a new Columbia River bridge that restricts river traffic.

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U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler moved legislation on Wednesday cautioning the U.S. Coast Guard to think twice about granting a permit for a new Columbia River bridge if it restricts river traffic.

The Camas Republican added the provision to an appropriations bill that makes 2014 spending decisions for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The U.S. House Appropriations Committee, of which Herrera Beutler is a member, unanimously passed the DHS spending bill Wednesday. The bill would still require approval from the entire House, the Democratic-led Senate and the president.

Her provision in the bill also would require the Coast Guard to submit a report to her committee about the Columbia River Crossing project’s economic impact on river users, and on efforts to mitigate financial harm to a few businesses located upriver of the Interstate 5 Bridge. Under the bill, that report must be submitted to Congress before the Coast Guard could issue a permit for the CRC.

The bill also states that the project’s proposed bridge height will have a negative impact on the region’s economy.

“I understand the CRC is pursuing mitigation deals with companies that employ hundreds of Southwest Washington and Oregon residents, but we deserve to know what will happen to those jobs once the deals are signed,” Herrera Beutler, a critic of the CRC, said in a statement. If the CRC can’t provide assurances that those businesses’ jobs will stay in the region, “then the Coast Guard should not permit this project,” she added.

The Coast Guard, which holds permitting authority over the proposed bridge, is in the process of reviewing the CRC’s application and is taking public comment on the project. The Coast Guard does consider a bridge’s economic impact when issuing a permit, but its not the agency’s top priority.

“The Coast Guard does consider economic impacts to waterway users as a data point, and this information should include the results of a rigorous analysis by the applicants of the potential adverse economic impact on waterway users and facilities,” Lt. Regina Caffrey, Seattle-based spokeswoman for District 13 of the Coast Guard, said by email. “The Coast Guard is required to ensure that bridges do not unreasonably obstruct the needs of navigation, and that is the primary consideration behind every bridge permitting decision.”

The CRC would replace the twin lift spans that make up the Interstate 5 Bridge with a new bridge providing 116 feet of fixed clearance. The new height of 116 feet is too low for a few upriver manufacturers at Vancouver’s Columbia Business Center to fit their largest products under the bridge. The existing I-5 Bridge offers 178 feet of clearance when lifted.

CRC officials expect to use millions of taxpayer dollars to compensate three manufacturers at the business center. Project and state leaders have spent recent months negotiating with each company to determine just how much they’ll pay as mitigation, and they hope to finalize mitigation agreements by the end of August.

Two of those manufacturers, Greenberry and Oregon Iron Works, are nearing agreements with the CRC to mitigate negative impacts to its business. Both companies indicated they were optimistic about reaching agreements that would keep jobs in the region. So far, the CRC hasn’t found the same progress with the third business, Vancouver-based Thompson Metal Fab.

All three businesses say they support the project overall.

Despite the CRC’s mitigation needs, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said Wednesday that the project has a net benefit to Southwest Washington’s economy. Murray, a strong supporter of the CRC, sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“For years, local businesses, officials, and stakeholders have all made contributions to the CRC project design. It’s also been studied, scrutinized, and available for public comment and expert review,” Murray said in a statement. “And the results are clear. The CRC will be an economic boon for Clark County and Washington state in the short term and the long term.”

The CRC filed its initial bridge permit application in January. Later told by the Coast Guard that more information was needed to begin the review process, the project sent additional documents last month. Coast Guard officials are aiming for a Sept. 30 deadline to make the decision.

In addition to replacing the I-5 Bridge, the $3.4 billion CRC project would extend light rail into Vancouver from Portland, and rebuild freeway interchanges near the bridge.

The DHS spending bill would dole out more than $6.8 billion to the Coast Guard. That is about a $25 million increase to the Coast Guard’s budget when compared to the 2013 fiscal year.

Columbian staff writer Eric Florip contributed to this report.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com