Inslee visits Ridgefield, glimpses its future

Governor gets tour of city, close-up look at upcoming projects

By Adam Littman, Columbian Staff Writer

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RIDGEFIELD — The blaring train horn wasn’t a planned part of the presentation for Gov. Jay Inslee, but Ridgefield City Manager Steve Stuart welcomed the distraction.

“You can see why we need the overpass now,” he said to Inslee at the Ridgefield boat launch Tuesday afternoon as an Amtrak sped by.

Inslee was in Ridgefield to tour the city. His visit started at the boat launch next to the Port of Ridgefield, and while Stuart and Port of Ridgefield CEO Brent Grening told him about the upcoming overpass project, they got an all-too-good example of why the overpass is such an anticipated project. Stuart said it wasn’t planned, but it also wasn’t unexpected.

“The great thing about the city is you don’t have to try,” Stuart said. “We get 60 to 70 trains going through here each day. You know you only have to wait about 15 minutes and a train is going to go by. It was a great illustration as to why we need the overpass.”

The overpass, which is expected to go out to bid in the coming weeks, will travel over the railroad tracks connecting Pioneer Street to the port’s property, making it easier to get from downtown to the waterfront area. It will also close off waterfront access that forces drivers to cross the railroad tracks. The $14 million project received $7.8 million in state funds.

Nobel-worthy partnership

Grening and port officials went over the cleanup effort at the former home to Pacific Wood Treating, which pressure-treated telephone poles and railroad ties with chemical agents. The plant closed in 1993, leaving the surrounding grounds steeped with chemicals. The ensuing cleanup brought together the port, city and state agencies pitching in to give the port 41 acres of developable land.

“The connection to the river was an absolute Nobel Prize-winning partnership, because it took local leadership to put all those forces together,” Inslee said. “It took the port to help with the cleanup. It took the state, both with the (Model Toxics Control Act) money, and with the transportation budget for the overpass. Then you take the local leadership from the mayor and everybody else to make the local moves.”

Stuart said it was a good opportunity to show the governor the $90 million cleanup site, and that the city is ready for investment.

Inslee said cleaning up the waterfront and getting the overpass in place will be great assets for development.

“To reconnect the community with the river is a real thrill to me,” he said. “When communities can reconnect to their waterfront, it’s huge from an economic development standpoint, and also a quality-of-life issue, because that river is everything. That’s your life’s dream.”

Capital budget update

Inslee also toured some school sites, where a few local projects are up in the air as legislators work to pass the capital budget. Republicans have said they won’t approve a budget without legislation overturning the Supreme Court’s Hirst decision, which limits the use of new domestic wells in rural areas if it harms senior water rights.

While in Ridgefield, Inslee visited a construction site that will be home to the Ridgefield School District’s new 5-8 campus, the first new school built in Ridgefield in more than 40 years. Funding for the campus comes from a $78 million bond voters passed in February, which is expected to be paired with at least $15.5 million in state matching funds. Superintendent Nathan McCann said it could be as much as close to $20 million in state matching funds, but uncertainty in the capital budget could put some plans for that money on hold.

“We’re counting on that capital budget,” McCann said. “There’s no Plan B.”

McCann said he thinks the district could complete the 5-8 campus using local funds, but other projects — such as an expansion at Ridgefield High School, repurposing View Ridge Middle School in downtown and security upgrades at various schools — can’t be done without the capital budget.

Clark College President Bob Knight was on the tour to talk to Inslee about the upcoming Clark College at Boschma Farms campus. Construction of the first 70,000-square-foot building is slated to begin in 2019, but without a capital budget, that could delay the project two years.

“Everything is set,” Knight said. “It’s right in line to fit in with growth in the area. It would be devastating if we didn’t get the funding.”

Inslee said Republicans have taken the capital budget hostage over “something unrelated.”

“This is a basic government function,” he said about the community college’s project. “It’s not an ideological issue.”

Inslee said he’s still hopeful the capital budget will get done, as the state came to an agreement on an education budget. Still, he said that to fully implement plans for schools that come from the education budget, there needs to be a capital one.

“It’s hard to have smaller class sizes if you don’t have the capital budget to build more classes,” he said.

Inslee also made a stop to visit some state employees new to Ridgefield, as he got a tour of the new Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife building, which recently moved from Vancouver to a new building located on port property. The port leases the building to the state.

“You see a lot of good examples of efficiency through partnership, and that’s why this community is doing so well,” Inslee said. “It’s doing great.”