All Politics is Local

Trigger warning: Bridge

The newly expanded Clark County council held its first meeting Tuesday. Councilor Jeanne Stewart, from left, Councilor Julie Olson, Council Chairman Marc Boldt, Councilor David Madore and Councilor Tom Mielke kicked off the year with a long, contentious meeting. (Tommy Rhodes for the Columbian)

(Tommy Rhodes for the Columbian)

New Clark County Councilor Julie Olson learned quickly Wednesday that you can’t say the word “bridge” in the council chambers without triggering Clark County’s biggest hater of tolls and light rail.

Olson proposed at Wednesday’s meeting that the council support House Bill 2414, which would create a work group of Washington and Oregon legislators to discuss bridge solutions across the Columbia River. The bill is sponsored by a bipartisan group of legislators including Vancouver Democrat Sharon Wylie and Camas Republican Liz Pike.

If the council had voted to support this, all that would have happened is Mike Burgess, the council’s lobbyist, would have popped into a public hearing today and signed on his support for the bill. There’s no opportunity for public testimony, Chair Marc Boldt tried to explain Wednesday. It’s just a yes or no answer.

But what ensued after Olson’s proposal turned into a case study of each individual councilor’s communication style.

The bill doesn’t mention at all what the bridge that work group proposes might look like, where it might be or whether it might result in a replacement to Interstate 5. Which makes sense, given the bill is just supporting the creation of a work group. Councilor David Madore took issue with that, saying that if the council were to sign its support onto the bill, that support needed to come with conditions.

“It does not exclude those things that our community has been very vocal to oppose,” Madore said. “The letter and whatever action we take ought to include our opposition of our community against light rail and against tolls.”

Councilor Tom Mielke, as he so often does, agreed with Madore.

“It kind of flies in the face of what we repealed the week before,” he said, referencing the eight Madore-authored resolutions the council repealed at its Jan. 5 meeting. Several of those were related to light rail, bus rapid transit projects and bridges across the Columbia River.

Madore then launched into a lengthy speech about how the defunct I-5 replacement proposal, the Columbia River Crossing, was a “thief” in Clark County, and that the county council will only support a third and a fourth toll-free crossing over the river. Boldt throughout tried to gently direct the conversation away from Madore, prompting Madore to snap “Excuse me, I would like to be able to finish,” at the council chair.

You know, as if there was any question about how Madore feels about bridges.

Madore wasn’t the only one testy. His pontification at one point seemed to be too much for Olson, who snapped back “We’re talking about a work group!” to her fellow councilor.

Oh, and Councilor Jeanne Stewart at one point said she wasn’t saying no to supporting the bill, but said she hadn’t had time to talk to anyone about the bill or where it came from, and wanted to make sure her opposition to tolls and light rail were clear. Which is one of the most Jeanne Stewart things to ever happen.

In the end, Mielke moved that the council not support the bill. That resolution failed three to two with Stewart, Olson and Boldt voting no. Olson instead moved to support the motion, but no second came.

“It amounts to rescinding what we just voted on,” Madore said, apparently forgetting that Mielke’s motion failed.

“All right, you know what? I’ll just remove the motion,” Olson said.

Madore tried to continue on with his speech about bridges, but was eventually shut down by Boldt.

“OK, very good,” the chair said. “We know what you think.”

Kaitlin Gillespie

I'm the education reporter at The Columbian. Get in touch at or 360-735-4517.