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City eyes Trump infrastructure plan

Vancouver’s federal lobbyist says I-5 project needs local consensus

By , Columbian Political Writer
Published: December 5, 2016, 9:09pm

President-elect Donald Trump said he plans to invest billions in infrastructure projects, a promise that has spurred some local politicians to wonder if that could help revive an effort to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge.

On Monday night, the Vancouver City Council heard from Joel Rubin, the city’s federal lobbyist who champions their causes in Washington, D.C. The council discussed the current political climate and the issues it wants to advocate for in the future.

When the topic of infrastructure arose, Councilor Jack Burkman noted that it seems Trump wants to make the infrastructure investments swiftly.

“You got to be shovel ready,” Burkman said, adding the region doesn’t have many shovel-ready projects. “Do you think there’s going to be a desire to bring back some portion of the work that was already done on the Columbia River Crossing project as a potentially shovel-ready piece of infrastructure for the nation he might want to grab a hold of?”

Rubin said he didn’t know what Trump’s administration would do, but raised a familiar stumbling block: the need for consensus at the state and local levels.

“It’s hard to build a project if the local constituency is in opposition to it,” Rubin said.

Many of the city’s top congressional priorities deal with another type of transportation, crude-by-rail. Currently, the financial burden to plan for an oil-by-rail spill or explosion falls on local first responders.

“Cities like Vancouver can’t apply for federal funding for crude-by-rail response or equipment,” Rubin said before the city council meeting. Vancouver is the epicenter for crude-by-rail issues, Rubin said, noting the proposed Vancouver Energy oil transfer terminal at the Port of Vancouver.

“It’s going to be the largest facility, if approved, in the entire country and the fire department will need to be prepared,” Rubin said.

U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, has spearheaded an effort to direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to consider grant requests for hazmat operations, including training and planning.

The federal government considers hazmat training a high priority for federal funds, but equipment and the actual strategic planning efforts don’t carry the same weight. Herrera Beutler will be one of the more senior members of the House Committee on Appropriations, which could bode well for Southwest Washington, Rubin said.

Other legislative priorities discussed include:

• Supporting a congressional effort to phase out older oil tankers, speed up the timeline for ensuring tankers have the latest brake technology, and urge the creation of volatility standards before shipping crude oil.

• The Vancouver Fire Department is seeking $1.1 million to replace an aging aerial ladder unit. The current ladder is 20 years old and has been used in 7,641 responses.

The department is also seeking funding to replace 270 obsolete regional self-contained breathing apparatus at a cost of $2 million. Vancouver firefighters are at high risk of relying on outdated equipment that doesn’t provide respiratory protection, according to information from Rubin.

The fire department will also chase $58,000 to purchase five personal protective equipment extractors and drying cabinets, necessary tools to ensure dirty gear is cleaned properly and safe for future use.

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• The city is also supporting several local transportation projects, including $2 million to finish work on the Southeast First Street improvement project, from Northeast 162nd Avenue to Northeast 192nd Avenue; $1.5 million for a new arterial roadway on 32nd Avenue and to replace the Fruit Valley Road bridge; and $750,000 for the Evergreen Highway pedestrian pathway along Southeast Evergreen Highway from Southeast Image Road to Southeast 100th Court.

• The city is also urging the congressional delegation to continue to champion affordable housing measures.

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