Herrera Beutler using a new statistic when talking about CRC’s impact to upriver companies

U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, has expressed concerns several times that the Columbia River Crossing project will harm metal fabrication businesses located upstream of the new bridge. But the statistics her office uses to talk about those economic impacts have changed over time.

Last month, Herrera Beutler introduced language into a Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill that would make the U.S. Coast Guard study the economic impact the CRC would have on businesses that move tall loads under the Interstate 5 Bridge.

That bill language states: “Over $500,000,000 in economic activity each year could be lost in addition to terminating 500 jobs in the surrounding area. This significant obstruction to the free flow of navigation on the Columbia River is very troubling.”

Half a billion dollars in one year? That’s a whole lot of money. When asked where that number came from, Herrera Beutler’s spokesman, Casey Bowman, linked to an opinion piece written last spring by Greenberry Industrial president Jason Pond. Bowman also said the true economic impact to those upriver businesses is ever greater, because “there are other businesses involved besides Greenberry.”

In Pond’s editorial, he writes that one of those tall shiploads that would be blocked by the CRC “can represent a $500 million project that takes up to two years to build and provides more than 500 high-paying manufacturing jobs.”

It’s noteworthy that Pond says the half a billion dollars is spread out over two years, not one, as Herrera Beutler’s legislation suggested. Based on Pond’s opinion piece, which was published in The Oregonian, it’s unclear whether he’s saying that $500 million project meant $500 million for Greenberry’s Vancouver location, or if Greenberry was simply helping out on a project that costs $500 million to build.

Greenberry’s media liaison, Gary Rubin, did not return numerous calls and emails seeking clarity on Pond’s opinion piece.

A report compiled by the CRC uses a much smaller figure when discussing the economic impact the $3.4 billion project would have on Greenberry and other businesses located at the riverfront Columbia Business Center.

If the I-5 Bridge over the Columbia River only lifted to 116 feet (the proposed height of the CRC) between 2002 and 2012, then the equivalent of 78 full-time jobs per year would have been lost at the three metal fabricators located at the Columbia Business Center. Besides Greenberry, Thompson Metal Fab and Oregon Iron Works have at least some of their operations located there.

Those 78 jobs per year represents about 9 percent of the three companies’ combined employment at all of their locations, according to the CRC report.

The report also states that a bridge height of 116 feet would have limited income to all three businesses by $193 million dollars between 2002 and 2012. That dollar figure was adjusted to reflect 2012 inflation rates.

The $500 million figure Herrera Beutler used last month is much larger than those used previously by her office.

In January, Herrera Beutler and Republican legislators from Southwest Washington signed onto a letter stating: “These (project-affected) 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.”

When asked about the discrepancy, another Herrera Beutler spokesman, Drew Griffin, said: “It became clear in conversations with Greenberry that those (initial) numbers were far too low. … Those (new) figures had been expressed to (Herrera Beutler) by Mr. Pond in person as well.”

Greenberry and Oregon Iron Works have worked out mitigation deals with the CRC to help their businesses meet the challenges associated with a shorter bridge height. Thompson Metal Fab has yet to reach a similar agreement with CRC planners. The I-5 Bridge has a lift span that rises to 178 feet above the river, but the CRC would have no lift span.

Stevie Mathieu

Stevie Mathieu

Stevie Mathieu is a political writer at The Columbian. Contact her at 360-735-4523 or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics.

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