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News / Business / Clark County Business

Major Columbia River property owner frustrated that I-5 Bridge project has yet to get Coast Guard approval

By William Seekamp, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 5, 2024, 8:32pm

The owner of an industrial park along the Columbia River in Vancouver reminded a Tuesday gathering of local leaders about a key hurdle to replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge: getting a permit from the U.S. Coast Guard.

That requires reaching a financial agreement with businesses along the river that would be impacted by the new bridge’s proposed lower vertical clearance. The U.S. Coast Guard, which has authority over the Columbia River and other navigable waterways, essentially has veto power over the bridge replacement project: no permit, no bridge.

Lance Killian, the owner of Killian Pacific, which owns the Columbia Business Center — the industrial property between state Highway 14 and BNSF Railway and the Columbia River — expressed concern at the end of Tuesday’s bridge replacement steering group meeting.

“In the public forum (the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program has) conveyed that these CBC tenants and CBC are being worked with and a resolution will be attained,” Killian said in the public comment portion of the meeting. “Unfortunately, I’m here today to share with you that is not the case with (the Columbia Business Center).”

Killian later told The Columbian he supports replacement of the bridge but wanted to raise his concerns now so any disagreements do not interfere with the project’s timeline of breaking ground by late 2025 or early ’26.

Although Killian Pacific technically is not a river user, Killian argues the viability of the Columbia Business Center — one of the few heavy industrial zones in Vancouver — would be damaged by a lower bridge height.

Replacement program officials propose building the bridge with 116 feet of vertical clearance — the same height the Coast Guard ultimately permitted for the Columbia River Crossing project in 2013 — which is about 35 percent lower than the bridge’s current lift span height of 178 feet.

Bridge Program Administrator Greg Johnson said in a statement negotiations are ongoing with several river users, fabricators and other businesses that may be potentially affected by the replacement bridge. He declined to discuss them citing nondisclosure agreements.

In a written public comment, Killian pointed to the eminent domain section of the Washington State Constitution that states, “No private property shall be taken or damaged for public or private use without just compensation having been first made.”

The Columbia Business Center “will take those steps necessary to object” to the project “without mitigation being worked out,” Killian wrote, adding he’s consulted with two law firms.

Mitigation

Citing the nondisclosure agreement, Killian declined to answer if the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program made Killian Pacific a mitigation offer.

Killian said he would be OK with either reaching a mitigation agreement or a new bridge with a higher vertical clearance. Replacement program officials are looking at a lift bridge, like the current I-5 Bridge, after the federal government directed them to study a crossing that does not impede river navigation.

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During the Columbia River Crossing — the prior effort to replace the I-5 Bridge, which was killed in 2013 due to political infighting — a mitigation agreement with the Columbia Business Center manufacturers was reached, but not with Killian Pacific.

“We were certainly at the table in those conversations but didn’t have a mitigation agreement when things came to a halt,” Killian told The Columbian.

Only a handful of river users require more than 116 feet of vertical clearance, and even fewer require the current bridge’s full 178 feet.

The city of Vancouver purchased Library Square — the grassy field south of the Vancouver Community Library — from Evergreen Investors LLC, an associate of Killian Pacific, for $12 million in 2023, $6 million to $8 million less than appraisers valued the five parcels of land. The city accepted the difference as a donation.

In January, Killian Pacific spent $96 million to purchase the rest of the Columbia Business Center. It bought the buildings and half the land at the Columbia Business Center in 2006

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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Columbian staff writer