Rex in a Box?

A mildly positive outcome from last night’s Columbia River Crossing task force meeting.

After about an hour of testimony, almost all of it from advocates for more options going into the DEIS process, the task force got down to the real business – deciding whether to add a fourth option to the alternatives.

Rex Burkholder played it cool, electing not to advance a specific option that might be shot down on technical grounds, but instead moving to create a sub-committee to bring back a potential option in 30 days.

The debate was interesting. There was a clear faction wanting to advance only the staff recommended options (big bridge or nothing) while another clear faction was not going to advance into the DEIS without more options. Along the way there were fear tactics (“if we don’t move quickly we may miss the next federal funding cycle”) and parliamentary moves (“we should separate the amendment and vote on the staff recommendation first”).

In the end, Oregon co-chair Henry Hewitt had to remind the group that if they didn’t enter the DEIS phase with some kind of consensus they might all just as well go home. The Burkholder ammendment passed with a solid majority, and the full motion to move into the DEIS phase then passed unanimously, although Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard, who had been instructed by his Council to ONLY vote for the staff recommendation only raised his hand in assent after it became clear he was at risk of being the only ‘no’ vote.

So good news for the moment, but I wonder about the longer term. Clark County Chair Steve Stuart openly opined that staff would try to kill the 4th option before it was born, and I fear that he may be right. There was much discussion of the new option needing to “meet the Purpose and Need” and pass “the same criteria” as the other options (and many feel the criteria applied are actually much more stringent than what the Purpose and Need statement requires).

So whatever comes out of the subcommittee is likely to face an uphill climb. And if no fourth option survives, I think the task force may well splinter permanently.

Rex will chair the subcommittee. Let’s see if he can navigate his way out of the box.

So good work to all the advocates that made it clear that no choice was not a choice. And keep paying attention, it’s only the beginning.

Here’s the early coverage:

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