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Tuesday, November 28, 2023
Nov. 28, 2023

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Rumors rile up light rail opponents

City manager says CenturyLink work not tied to CRC

By , Columbian Business Editor

CenturyLink is in the business of speedy communications. The company, successor to Qwest, says it’s trying to make messages move even faster with ongoing maintenance and upgrades.

But CenturyLink’s fiber cable is no match for the rumor mill that races through Clark County’s conservative blogs, websites, and radio talk shows whenever the conversation turns to light rail.

This time, the topic is CenturyLink’s recent work on downtown Vancouver’s Main Street, most recently at a manhole at 11th Street. Tom McCloud, owner of PIP Printing on Main Street, just south of that intersection, said he and a curious customer asked a CenturyLink worker one day last month what the workers were doing.

The worker, McCloud recalls, said they were working to prepare for light rail, a job that would take three years. Stewing at the idea that the work was being done before a new vote on light rail, McCloud started making phone calls. State Sen. Don Benton said that light rail supporters would somehow get what they wanted, McCloud recalls. Clark County Commissioner Tom Mielke didn’t call back, and neither did U.S. Digital chief executive and anti-rail crusader David Madore — at least initially.

Last week, McCloud got calls from two of Madore’s staff and later from the man himself. Rapidly, discussion of the unnamed worker’s comment went viral in an anti-light rail way.

McCloud wound up on the air with conservative radio talk show hosts Lars Larsen and Victoria Taft. Vancouver City Council member Jack Burkman asked city manager Eric Holmes on Monday night what was going on inside those manholes on Main Street. The below-ground dust-up bubbled up to the Couv.com website, owned by Madore, which featured a story and a video of Holmes’ comment.

So here’s what Holmes, Vancouver officials, and CenturyLink have to say:

CenturyLink’s work on Main Street is part routine maintenance and part upgrade. And yes, the telecommunications utility is aware that a downtown light rail plan is a possibility, and has taken that fact into account in its upgrades. And no, neither the city nor the Columbia River Crossing asked CenturyLink to work to accommodate rail, and no public money is going into the work.

“It has nothing to do with light rail. It has everything to do with maintenance,” said Martin Flynn, CenturyLink’s marketing and public relations manager for Northern Oregon and southern Washington.

Holmes, who was not available Thursday, said much the same thing to the City Council.

“It appears, through (CenturyLink’s) own volition, they made a choice to make some upgrades in anticipation of potential CRC investments in downtown,” he said. “It’s really a private company doing private investment in the public right of way.”

McCloud, surprised at the attention he stirred up, acknowledges that the construction worker may not be a definitive source on the scope of his company’s work. But he’ll take that man’s word over those of the city and company leaders.

“I don’t believe them,” he said. “I don’t believe any of the politicians.”

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Columbian Business Editor