The fate of nearly a fifth of the Columbia River Economic Development Council’s non-grant funding is in limbo after Clark County Councilor David Madore accused the agency of lobbying for the Columbia River Crossing.
It might feel like déjà vu, but the ghost of the CRC — which died two years ago — reared its head at the county council’s weekly board time Wednesday during a discussion of whether or not to designate the CREDC as the county’s Associate Development Organization.
That designation opens up economic development agencies to receive money from the state Commerce Department. Clark County has given the designation to the CREDC every two years for the past decade, allowing the economic development council to receive about $160,000 a year in state funding.
That’s about 19 percent of the organization’s non-grant funding, said Mike Bomar, president of the CREDC. The nonprofit organization also receives about half a million in federal grants, he said.
However, Madore said he will not support naming the CREDC as the county’s Associate Development Organization as long as it advocates for the Mill Plain Interchange project on Interstate 5, a project he has criticized over and over again for being “CRC through the back door.”
“The problem is the ADO is doing extracurricular activities that are high-profile, highly controversial and I think violating what to me is a public trust, using tax-payer funds to lobby against the taxpayers who pay those funds,” Madore said.
The council did not vote on the issue Wednesday.
The Mill Plain Interchange was “identified as a priority interchange upgrade in the Columbia River Crossing Project Package,” according to a summary of the project by the city of Vancouver, which also is stamped with the logos of the Port of Vancouver and the CREDC. The report continued that despite the CRC failing, the interchange upgrade “remains a critical need” in the region.
Madore said that the connection between the two projects is troubling and that the CREDC’s support of the Mill Plain project means the organization is lobbying for the CRC. The CRC would have replaced the I-5 Bridge and brought light rail to Vancouver.
During the board time meeting Wednesday, Bomar interjected, saying the CREDC’s official stance on the CRC is that the project is dead, and that it therefore can’t possibly support the project.
In an interview with The Columbian following the meeting, Bomar said he and Madore “disagree on what reality is.”
“It’s an inappropriate use of their leverage,” to potentially withhold the designation, Bomar said. “It’s unfair to our partners in the community.”
The county council’s strained relationship with the CREDC is not new. In 2013, Madore and fellow County Commissioner Tom Mielke voted to halt $200,000 in county funding to the CREDC because it supported the CRC. The commission did, however, approve naming the CREDC its Associate Development Organization.
In an email Madore sent to Bomar on Monday, he asked that the CREDC remain neutral on so-called “controversial projects.”
“My appeal is for the CREDC to discontinue advocating for such controversial projects that divide our community as shown in the attached flyer sponsored by the CREDC for the Mill Plain portion of the CRC project,” Madore wrote.
The CREDC, however, has always supported transportation and other infrastructure projects, Bomar said. The CREDC advocates equally for all projects the Clark County Transportation Alliance has identified as priorities. That priority list includes the Mill Plain project, as well as improvements to the 179th Street Interchange on I-5 that the county has lobbied for.
Madore himself, as well as Councilors Jeanne Stewart and Mielke, approved a resolution during the Southwest Regional Transportation Committee’s Jan. 6 meeting that supported the alliance’s priority list, according to meeting minutes. That resolution passed unanimously.
The support the CREDC provides transportation projects is largely symbolic. The CREDC ultimately has no authority over which projects move forward, but can provide supporting evidence that those projects will be beneficial to the region’s economic development.
“Our economic development plan encourages us to take an active role in supporting infrastructure programs,” Bomar said.
It is too soon to speculate on the repercussions of losing the funding, Bomar said. But during the board time meeting he said a lot rests on the CREDC receiving the money.
Though the council did not vote on the matter, it appears there are enough votes to deny the CREDC its Associate Development Organization status. Mielke said he believes the Mill Plain project is nothing more than remnants of the CRC.
“I would … ask as a partner of the CREDC that they change their position on this” project, Mielke said.
Stewart, who sits on the CREDC’s board of directors, disagreed.
“To want to punish somebody who does something that we don’t like becomes very worrisome to me,” she said.
The CREDC board, whose meetings are not open to the public, will meet at 7 a.m. today. The board will likely decide how to move forward and whether or not to consider Madore’s request. The council has until June 15 to determine its Associate Development Organization designation.