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News / Clark County News

Coast Guard: More info needed on CRC bridge height

By Eric Florip, Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter
Published: March 12, 2013, 5:00pm

The U.S. Coast Guard has told Columbia River Crossing leaders that it can’t proceed on a crucial permit application without more information on the project’s proposed bridge height and its impacts.

In a letter sent last week, Rear Adm. K.A. Taylor gave the CRC a list of several topics that aren’t sufficiently addressed in the bridge permit application filed Jan. 30. Among the most pressing:

o CRC officials haven’t provided enough specifics about how it will mitigate impacts to river users affected by the proposed Interstate 5 Bridge replacement. Those negotiations are ongoing, according to the permit application. “However, there is no indication that those negotiations are progressing towards a solution that preserves the navigational capability of the river,” Taylor wrote.

o The application didn’t include enough information about economic impacts, particularly three major river manufacturers affected by the CRC’s proposed 116-foot bridge height.

o The proposed alignment of the CRC would shorten the distance between the Interstate 5 crossing and the railroad bridge just downstream. That leaves vessels 18 percent less room to navigate between the spans, but the CRC hasn’t completed a detailed analysis of that impact. Taylor called the impact “new information” that should be addressed “as soon as possible.”

The CRC must also better explain anticipated wetland impacts and provide other technical information, according to the letter.

CRC Oregon Project Director Kris Strickler said Tuesday that project officials already have much of the information needed to answer the Coast Guard’s questions. Such interactions between a permitting agency and a major project are common, he said.

“A request for additional information is the normal practice as opposed to the abnormal practice,” Strickler said. “We expected this.”

Much of the attention around the bridge height issue has centered around three upriver manufacturers with Vancouver facilities: Thompson Metal Fab, Greenberry Industrial and Oregon Iron Works. Those three companies could take a hit of up to $116 million in lost profits from a span with 116 feet of clearance, according to the CRC. Each builds and ships large equipment from the Columbia Business Center on the Washington side of the river.

The existing I-5 Bridge allows for 178 feet of headroom when lifted.

In its permit application, the CRC indicated it expects to pay those companies as mitigation. The application also included a list of possible sites where they could relocate down river.

But the Coast Guard so far isn’t satisfied with the CRC’s plan.

“The application identifies a projected financial impact to three industrial fabricators, but does not provide the underlying data or analysis that supports it,” Taylor wrote. “Neither does it analyze the long-term effect on those entities or the industry segments they serve. I also need a separate forward-looking analysis of the reduced commercial capacity of the waterway due to the navigational limitations associated with the proposed bridge.”

Despite those impacts, the CRC has said its plans for a new bridge connecting Vancouver and Portland would not affect the vast majority of river users.

Strickler said it may be “a matter of weeks,” not months, before project planners can deliver the information the Coast Guard asked for. The Coast Guard is aiming for a Sept. 30 target to make a decision on the bridge permit application.

‘Move in parallel’

The review comes as the Washington Legislature prepares to consider funding its $450 million share of the $3.4 billion CRC, which would also rebuild freeway interchanges on both sides of the Columbia River and extend light rail into Vancouver. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber finalized his state’s commitment of $450 million in a bill-signing ceremony on Tuesday.

The Coast Guard’s decision won’t arrive until well after this year’s legislative sessions are over. That’s made some lawmakers skittish about moving forward in 2013. For a project as complex as the CRC, it’s normal to have developments playing out on multiple fronts, Strickler said.

“We have to go through these processes,” he said. “At some point, some of the finance conversations have to move in parallel.”

Project leaders hope to begin construction on the CRC in late 2014.

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