By Stevie Mathieu, May 22, 2013, The Columbian
Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler moved legislation today that advises the U.S. Coast Guard against approving a permit for a new Columbia River bridge that restricts river traffic.
The Camas Republican added that provision to an appropriations bill that makes 2014 spending decisions for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The U.S. House Appropriations Committee, of which Herrera Beutler is a member, unanimously passed the DHS spending bill earlier today.
Her provision in the bill also would require the Coast Guard to submit a report to Congress about the Columbia River Crossing project’s efforts to mitigate financial harm to a few businesses located upriver of the Interstate 5 Bridge. Under the bill, that report must be submitted to Congress before the Coast Guard could issue a permit for the CRC.
“I understand the CRC is pursuing mitigation deals with companies that employ hundreds of Southwest Washington and Oregon residents, but we deserve to know what will happen to those jobs once the deals are signed,” Herrera Beutler said in a statement. If the CRC can’t provide assurances that those businesses’ jobs will stay in the region, “then the Coast Guard should not permit this project,” she added.
The CRC would replace the twin lift spans that make up the Interstate 5 Bridge with a new bridge providing 116 feet of fixed clearance. The new height of 116 feet is too low for the upriver manufacturers at Vancouver’s Columbia Business Center to fit their largest products under the bridge. The existing I-5 Bridge offers 178 feet of clearance when lifted.
CRC officials expect to use millions of taxpayer dollars to compensate the three manufacturers who say they’d be squeezed by the $3.4 billion CRC project. Project and state leaders have spent recent months negotiating with each company to determine just how much they’ll pay as mitigation, and they hope to finalize mitigation agreements by the end of August.
The CRC appears close to a mitigation deal with two of the three major riverfront manufacturers negatively affected by the project, Greenberry International and Oregon Iron Works. The two companies indicated they were optimistic about mitigation deals that would make it possible for jobs to stay in the region.
So far, the CRC hasn’t found the same progress with the third business, Vancouver-based Thompson Metal Fab. The parties involved in mitigation are bound by nondisclosure agreements.
The DHS spending bill would dole out more than $6.8 billion to the Coast Guard, which is tasked with maintaining safety, security and stewardship along the nation’s waterways. That is about a $25 million increase to the Coast Guard’s budget when compared to the 2013 fiscal year.
Herrera Beutler was appointed to the House Appropriations Committee earlier this year. She also serves on the House’s Small Business Committee.