September 27th, 2013 | by ANDREA DAMEWOOD News | Posted In: PDX News, Politics, Environment, Transportation

Coast Guard Grants the Columbia River Crossing a Permit

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The U.S. Coast Guard has granted the Columbia River Crossing a permit to build 116-foot-high Interstate 5 bridges between Portland and Vancouver.

The approval (PDF) clears one of the final hurdles the once-dead, now revived $2.8 billion megaproject had, and puts its continued existence squarely at the feet of Oregon lawmakers.

The project had been expecting a Coast Guard response by Sept. 30: the same day that Gov. John Kitzhaber has called for a special session, and the day that Oregon's bill granting $450 million for the project expires.

While Kitzhaber has called getting the CRC into Monday's special session a "long shot," the approval opens the door for the governor to possibly push through an extension on the project's deadline.

The release of the signed permit, first reported by The Columbian, clears up whether the CRC's too-low bridges would pass Coast Guard muster—federal law states that no new bridges may obstruct current or future river traffic. But insiders have told WW that the Seattle office overseeing the project was largely removed from the decision making process, with most work being handled in Washington D.C.

In a letter (PDF) to Washington Republican Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, Coast Guard Rear Admiral J.A. Servidio says the recent Attorney General opinions saying Oregon can construct the bridges in Washington state also played a role in the approval. Mitigation agreements also helped soothe them, he says.

Herrera Beutler had asked for an explanation of the process and demanded internal and external communication from the Coast Guard regarding the CRC. Her spokesman, Casey Bowman, says the Coast Guard provided no communication. She also this week wrote that local governments were lied to about key aspects of the CRC, including funding and federal deadlines.

The information, and approved permit, were sent to the Congresswoman's office at 5:07 pm East Coast time. Immediate calls to the number provided in the letter went to voice mail, Bowman says.

The Servidio letter says he has attached all the Coast Guard's external emails regarding the CRC for the Congresswoman's inspection—but there were no attachments.

"Questions have been asked whether the Coast Guard was improperly influenced to deviate from standard procedures to issue this permit," Bowman writes in an email. "Why would a federal agency ignore an information request from a member of Congress for internal communication?  It speaks volumes that this agency would send information on a Friday night after its phones are turned off."

The permit has a number of requirements for the project, including that no plans change without approval and that construction must start within three years.


 
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