Today four members of Congress, Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) wrote to the Coast Guard's top officer in the Northwest today asking for further evaluation of the potential economic impact of the proposed $3.5 billion Columbia River Crossing Project. It's worth noting that all four members are Republicans, who maintain a 232 to 200 majority in the House.
The letter comes as the Oregon Legislature prepares to convene on Feb. 4. Gov. John Kitzhaber and House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) have said they will push for an early vote to appropriate Oregon's $450 million contribution to the project. The Coast Guard is already on record expressing concerns that the current bridge design is too low.
Rear Admiral Keith A. Taylor
District Commander Thirteenth Coast Guard District
915 2nd Avenue, Room 3590 Seattle, WA 98174-1067
Dear Admiral Taylor:
We are writing to express our continued concern regarding the potential, and increasingly probable, negative impacts of the Columbia River Crossing to navigation and commerce upriver of the project. As you know, a recent survey of current river users was conducted by the CRC to determine the impacts of a bridge clearance design that is too low to accommodate the free flow of navigation. The findings of that survey, as well as additional discussions with those users by the CRC, have shown results that are very troubling.
Although the CRC has attempted to lessen the impacts to some of the users by calling for a design that will provide 116 feet of clearance, unfortunately significant impacts to upriver users remain. We believe it is crucial that we move beyond the number of times per year that these impacted users would need to move their cargo under the bridge, to the real numbers that these trips represent.
· The CRC admits that these trips, though limited in number, are significant revenue producers for the fabricating companies that would no longer be able to fit their cargo under the bridge for shipment. These trips have historically represented nearly 10 percent of their gross annual revenue, and stand to represent even greater numbers due to current company growth.
· These trips have represented nearly $200 million in revenue to these companies over the course of the last 10 years and have provided employment to approximately 140 full time, well paid employees. Current and anticipated growth within the companies will only cause these numbers to rise.
· In addition to the businesses that are being impacted, land owners stand to lose significant value to their properties if these businesses are forced to relocate and future tenants cannot be found due to insufficient bridge clearance to move cargo.
· Costs for the bridge design modifications to raise the clearance to the height of 116 feet are estimated at $30 million. In reality, this number is woefully inadequate since it does not include mitigation costs, estimated to be in the hundreds of millions, for the businesses and landowners who will continue to be impacted by a bridge clearance that would remain insufficient.
· In an issue unaddressed by the CRC, how can we possibly mitigate for the families whose jobs will unnecessarily be lost?
We cannot cavalierly dismiss the impacts to the businesses, current and future, which depend upon the free flow of river commerce to survive. Neither can we dismiss the impacts to our local economy, nor the jobs that would cease, should these companies be forced to relocate or close their doors. We would argue that we do not want to take this risk when we have the opportunity to bring about a solution that ensures free navigation of the river and protects our regional economy, both now and in the future. To close, this issue is of such significance to our districts that we request a full study of the current and future economic impacts to all upriver traffic prior to the issuance of a possible permit. Too many questions remain unanswered, and it is imperative that we find a solution that fosters, rather than hinders, our future economic viability. Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. We look forward to your response.