By Eric Florip and Erik Hidle, February 7, 2013, The Columbian
Clark County commissioners next week will consider a resolution opposing the Columbia River Crossing.
The item was added to Tuesday’s meeting agenda at the request of County Commissioner David Madore, a critic of the project.
Madore said he requested the agenda item to follow the lead of commissioners in Clackamas County, Ore., who are discussing a similar resolution today.
“We are following the same lead as Clackamas,” Madore said. “They are passing a resolution that says don’t fund this boondoggle. And we are basically representing the people, that (voters on) Proposition 1 said ‘don’t fund this project, don’t fund light rail.'”
In November, voters in C-Tran’s taxing district soundly rejected Proposition 1, a proposed sales tax hike to help cover the cost of operating light rail in Vancouver, planned as part of the CRC. The $3.5 billion CRC project would also replace the Interstate 5 Bridge and rebuild the freeway on both sides of the Columbia River.
The county resolution was not addressed during the commissioners’ public session Wednesday. Madore proposed such a resolution last week, but the request died after Commissioner Tom Mielke said he wanted to remain neutral on the project.
“(Being neutral) is what we’re asking those we pay dues to, to do,” Mielke said, referencing the commission’s January decision to withdraw funding to the Columbia River Economic Development Council because it supports the current Columbia River Crossing project.
Commissioner Steve Stuart said he learned of the resolution only after Madore made the new request this morning. According to Stuart, Madore made the request to put the item on the agenda by email and Mielke agreed by phone. Stuart believes the public should have been involved in the process.
“I’ll keep fighting to make sure open and transparent government is more than just a talking point,” Stuart said.
The draft resolution cites high costs, new fees and taxes, and “abundant evidence of widespread and overwhelming public opposition including the recent general election where the majority of voters defeated a measure to fund light rail.”
It goes on: “The Clark County Commission strongly objects to the efforts to commit any funding to the Columbia River Crossing Light Rail Tolling project as planned.” It also urges other regional cities and counties to “stand up and be counted on this very important matter.”
The item is nearly identical to the anti-CRC resolution that was scheduled for a vote before the Clackamas County commission in Oregon on Thursday. Several passages of the two resolutions are exactly the same — word for word.
Clark County’s version lists the names of Madore and Mielke at the bottom, but not Stuart.
Madore said he wouldn’t “second guess” Stuart on his stance on the resolution or the CRC project, but does hope Mielke will be swayed from his neutral standpoint.
“The people are not neutral on this project,” Madore said. “I do hope Tom Mielke will follow the leadership that has been demonstrated in Clackamas.”
All three Clark County commissioners hold seats on the nine-member C-Tran board. But any statement the county makes alone won’t have an effect on the CRC, Stuart said.
“The county commission has no legal authority over this interstate project. Period,” Stuart said.
A county vote
The resolution isn’t Madore’s only active effort to challenge the project. While Mielke originally disagreed with the resolution last week, he did agree with Madore that the county should pursue an avenue to give the public a vote on light rail.
There is a process available for commissioners to place matters before voters, but it is unclear how a vote on light rail would look. Commissioners elected to ask for an opinion from the county’s legal council before moving forward on the matter.
“We are brainstorming, or I am searching for, a way for the citizens to have the most meaningful vote possible on this project,” Madore said. “I don’t simply want it to be advisory, I want it to be binding.”
An advisory vote is a nonbinding vote that gives lawmakers an idea of what voters are thinking. In 2011 and 2010, county attorneys came to the conclusion that commissioners lack the authority to place a vote on the ballot regarding the project as it doesn’t fall under their governing authority.
Madore said he’s looking for an alternative to that ruling.
“One way is (a vote) to prevent the county from spending any funds on this project as it’s proposed,” Madore said. “That would be a binding vote. We are exploring all the options.”