As a group, all three Clark County commissioners agree that a new bridge is needed across the Columbia River, the chairman of the commission told a business lunch crowd on Thursday in Camas.
“The argument is over how and where,” said Steve Stuart, the three-member board of commissioners’ chair and a Democrat who is serving his second elected four-year term.
During his keynote address at a Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Fairgate Inn in Camas, Stuart also talked in detail about the county’s efforts to encourage economic development and the board’s decision to support the election of freeholders to write a proposed home rule charter.
Stuart praised Camas for working with the county and others to build infrastructure that supports development. He also emphasized the importance of effective urban growth planning and said the county’s current fee holiday is supportive of small businesses.
“It (the home rule charter) gives the opportunity for more citizen involvement in county government,” he said.
Fifteen Clark County freeholders will be tasked with drafting the charter, which will allow the county to be governed by its own set of rules, as long as those rules don’t conflict with the U.S. or Washington state constitutions, or state laws, Stuart said. Clark County has 110 candidates running for 15 freeholder positions on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Changes to county government could include expanding the board of commissioners or creating an elected county executive, Stuart said.
The new charter must be approved by voters.
“If the voters say yes, that’s how we’ll move forward,” he said.
Commissioners this year are also asking county voters to weigh in on the best routes across the Columbia River, as well as whether light rail and bus rapid transit should be included. Public opinion will be measured by 11 nonbinding advisory votes on the November ballot.
Stuart, who was re-elected in 2010, has made it clear he favors replacing the current Interstate 5 Bridge. His counterparts, Republican Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke, are each leaning in opposite directions. Mielke has said a bridge west of Vancouver would better connect the region with Highway 26 and Highway 30 in Oregon. Madore favors a span in east Clark County at Northeast 192nd Avenue.
In a Friday follow-up call, Stuart said he expects the disagreement will be settled by a clear majority of votes, although he declined to say which option he thought would be most popular. Regardless, the advisory vote’s outcome won’t be pressed into law.
“I think it’s highly unlikely that all three options will get the same support,” Stuart said. “I think there will be a clear favorite among our citizens.”