By Eric Hidle, February 12, 2013, The Columbian
Clark County commissioners now officially oppose the Columbia River Crossing project.
Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke both voted in favor of a resolution Tuesday afternoon that states the county “strongly objects to the efforts to commit any funding to the Columbia River Crossing Light Rail Tolling project as currently planned.”
Clark County’s resolution alone does not change the course of the CRC. The county is not one of the six local signatory agencies that have shaped and approved project plans so far.
All three Clark County commissioners do, however, hold seats on the nine-member C-Tran board. C-Tran is one of the local signatories on the CRC.
Clark County’s resolution states that the county will inform the local signatories of its stance on the project. The approved resolution also states that the county “urges” other Washington and Oregon jurisdictions to follow suit.
Commissioner Steve Stuart was absent from the meeting due to illness. Many members of the public requested the commissioners wait for Stuart to return to the board before they took action.
Last week, Stuart questioned what the resolution would accomplish.
“The county commission has no legal authority over this interstate project. Period,” Stuart said.
The group of over 100 people who gathered for the 10 a.m. meeting dwindled to about 50 by the time the commissioners voted on the matter, just before 1 p.m. The vote came after nearly two hours of public comment on the matter that saw some 40 people testify.
The majority of speakers were opposed to the county’s resolution, and several labor union members spoke in favor of the CRC project.
About a dozen speakers turned out to oppose the CRC and praise the commissioners for moving to do the same.
After the comment period, Madore had the hearing room’s 10-foot-tall projector screen lowered, and he displayed a voting map that ran in The Columbian after last November’s election. The map showed that voters in C-Tran’s taxing district soundly rejected Proposition 1 — a proposed sales tax increase intended to fund the cost of operating light rail in Vancouver, planned as part of the CRC.
“The overwhelming opposition to this project has been evident,” Madore said.
Madore said he’s heard the argument that the vote on the sales tax may not be indicative of opposition for light rail. He said that not all of the county had the chance to vote on the proposition.
“I hear that,” Madore said. “The problem is that, up to this point, (county residents) haven’t had the chance to vote on this project.”
Madore said commissioners are working on a way to give the entire county a chance to vote on the matter. In January, the board requested a legal opinion from county counsel on how to offer such a vote.
Madore has long been a critic of the CRC project. He’s said the project has been poorly planned and designed, and he’s opposed to a bridge that introduces tolls and light rail. But before his vote, he said his personal feelings on the matter aren’t the root of the issue.
“We sit here as representatives of the people,” Madore said, adding that he would “honor the ballot box.”
Madore said he wished to move forward on the resolution immediately as it was already “as late as we can get” with an action. He also said he wants to begin looking at ways to improve the railroad bridge spanning from Clark County to Oregon, and to look at additional locations for new bridges across the Columbia River.
Mielke agreed with Madore, saying he, too, would like to see a third and fourth bridge, then he explained the reason for his vote.
“So far, this project has been a blank check that you and I have been paying for,” Mielke said.
Mielke said he sees the county’s move as a way not to stop the project, but “trying to open it up to other choices.”