East Clark County bridge effort prompts late scramble

People needed to write pro, con statements for voters' pamphlet

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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November’s vote on Clark County Commissioner David Madore’s vision for a third bridge across the Columbia River is facing a last-minute hurdle.

With only a few hours to go, commissioners are working to appoint members of two committees who will write pro and con statements for a nonbinding vote on the bridge, which will appear in the general election voters’ pamphlet. The deadline for naming committee members is 5 p.m. today.

The advisory vote — approved by commissioners July 29 on a 2-1 vote — is intended to gauge whether there’s support for pursuing a bistate crossing from Southeast 192nd Avenue in Vancouver to Airport Way in Portland.

Madore, a major opponent of the failed Columbia River Crossing, has been pushing the project as a congestion-relieving option worth investigating. Others have been skeptical of the idea, questioning everything from the bridge’s $860 million price tag, to its five-year development timeline and its ability to actually relieve congestion.

He said Wednesday at a county board time meeting that he’d take the lead in forming the pro advisory vote committee but would abstain from naming people to the con committee.

“I am obviously biased toward it,” he said, “so I should not choose who sits on the con committee.”

Commissioner Tom Mielke suggested that Commissioner Ed Barnes, the only commissioner to vote against placing the advisory vote on the ballot, should head up the con committee. Barnes was absent from Wednesday’s meeting, however, because he was attending a labor conference in Wenatchee.

If the commissioners cannot form a con committee by today’s deadline, then it’s up to the county auditor to do it. By law, elective boards that approve placing propositions or advisory votes on ballots are responsible for recruiting committees to write statements for and against them.

“I’m hoping the commissioners will fulfill their commitment to appoint pro and con committees by the Aug. 7 deadline,” said Auditor Greg Kimsey, who oversees the county’s election division.

And if he can’t find anyone to write the opposition statement, Kimsey said, it won’t appear in the voters’ pamphlet.

This year’s vote will come a year after the first advisory vote on an east county bridge. It was one of a cluster of advisory votes that appeared on the November 2013 ballot. It asked whether voters supported the idea of a toll-free crossing.

This year’s advisory vote will ask whether people support actually pursuing the project. If commissioners can’t put together a committee to write a con statement by today’s deadline, Kimsey said he will reach out to members of last year’s opposition committee.

That committee included Mike Briggs, a current candidate for the 18th Legislative District, Position 1 seat, Rory Bowman and Dave Howard.

Madore was a member of the committee that wrote the statement in favor of last year’s advisory vote, and he said Wednesday he would be willing to do that again.

He would be allowed to do that, Kimsey said, as long as he doesn’t use county resources.

The committees will have until Aug. 14 to submit their statements of no more than 250 words to the auditor’s office.