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Crossroads Await in '08 for County

by Don Hamilton
The Columbian, January 1, 2008

The Dam Debate: will likely reignite

Some of the most interesting news events of 2008 may not matter until 2009.

In 2008, after all, we will elect a new Clark County commissioner, a governor and, oh yeah, a new president. It should mean good theater, good politics and good public policy debate while the state gears up for a Chris Gregoire-Dino Rossi rematch for the governor's mansion. Also, Commissioner Betty Sue Morris will step down at the end of 2008 after 12 years.

The elections will certainly be among the crucial events of the upcoming year. But more than that, many big stories in 2008 will continue to be big stories in 2009 and perhaps beyond. Think new Interstate 5 bridge, the Cowlitz casino, riverfront developments and Mount St. Helens. They aren't going away anytime soon.

Here's a preview of what to expect in 2008:

Turnover in county government

Mom's retiring. That'll be the mood around county government in late 2008, where the quick-witted, sharp-tongued Commissioner Betty Sue Morris will leave the seat she's held for 12 years. The political scramble is already on, with three candidates already jostling to fill her shoes and other hopefuls in the wings.

And on top of that, first-term Commissioner Marc Boldt could draw heated opposition, making for a contentious year of debate about the county's path.

One thing's certain: Whoever takes office on Jan. 1, 2009, will operate in a new political universe.

Bridge plans

Three years of planning and studies by Columbia River Crossing will finally produce a proposal for a new Interstate 5 bridge, a mass transit component and rebuilt freeway interchanges. Early clues point to a new bridge replacing the existing one and a light rail line running north through downtown Vancouver.

The initial recommendations should go public sometime in February with a final plan complete by summer.

But that's just for starters. By the end of 2008, the funding picture should be clear as well. Expect a mix of tolls, federal money and state money to pay a price tag that could reach $4.2 billion.

Storm brewing over water rules

Talk about a rain check.

Since 2001, Clark County has shielded local developers from new state rules for managing storm runoff. This August, the bill will come due - and you might wind up paying it.

Bringing the county's public systems up to speed, needed in part because of the new rules, is expected to cost almost $20 million over the next few years. The money might come from a property tax hike or higher annual stormwater fees.

Private builders, meanwhile, warn that larger storm drainage facilities will add $30,000 to the price of some new houses.

State, local, environmental and development interests will spend the year gnawing this over. Whoever comes out on top, the cost of paving a field is about to go up. Look for a rush of projects as developers hurry to build under the old rules while they still can.

Casino, casino, casino

At the start of 2007, there was speculation that year could be when the Cowlitz Tribe received a yes or no answer on its casino plans.

That didn't happen.

The feds finished work on a preliminary version of a final environmental impact statement for a $510 million casino complex west of La Center, but a June decision striking down the tribe's 2004 memorandum of understanding with Clark County complicated the federal process.

Even if the government says yes to a Cowlitz casino this year, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde almost certainly will continue to shout "no." The Grand Ronde, intent on protecting revenues from their Spirit Mountain Casino near the Oregon coast, are expected to fight any approval in the courts.

The cities of La Center, Vancouver and Woodland also have passed resolutions threatening legal action if the casino is approved.

Governor's race rematch

Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire will probably face Republican Dino Rossi again this November in her bid for a second term.

Gregoire beat Rossi by just 129 votes in 2004 after two recounts and a court challenge. The race promises to be lively, with Rossi, the former Senate budget-writer, trying to paint Gregoire as a tax-and-spend liberal, while the governor runs on her record of accomplishments, aided by a Democratic-controlled Legislature. Gregoire has the incumbent's advantage, but unlike Rossi, she'll be prohibited from raising campaign money during the 60-day legislative session that begins Jan. 14.

Presidential politics

Washington moved its 2008 presidential primary to Feb. 19 so voters in the Evergreen state could have a shot at influencing whom the major parties pick as nominees.

But in this front-loaded election year, 36 states have scheduled primaries or caucuses ahead of Feb. 19, which means the nominations could be locked in by then. Meanwhile, state Democrats will disregard the primary results and select all 80 of their delegates to the August Democratic National Convention in Denver at precinct caucuses on Feb. 9.

Republicans, meanwhile, will choose 19 of their 40 delegates to the September Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., based on primary results and another 18 at the Feb. 9 caucuses. Three GOP "super- delegates" will be chosen by the party.

Waterfront, roads and dollars

Vancouver will be doing a familiar song and dance in 2008 as city officials debate the need for more dollars.

There will be discussion of money for police to combat gangs and other high-profile problems, but most of the talk will focus on transportation. Vancouver has a long wish list of projects, with one high-profile project unofficially occupying the top slot.

Vancouver already has pledged to provide $9.5 million - money the city doesn't have - for road improvements to support redevelopment of the former Boise Cascade industrial site along the Columbia River.

That is only part of the problem. The city has identified a $13.8 million funding gap it hopes to fill from a variety of public and private sources.

All of which must be wrapped up in the spring if the city is to remain on an aggressive schedule to begin road construction this summer.

Dam debate

Look for another great debate over the future of imperiled salmon in the Columbia River basin in 2008. U.S. District Judge James Redden has already signaled that he's displeased with the federal government's latest effort to balance salmon survival with hydroelectric dams.

If Redden follows through on his threat to take over operation of the federal hydro system, it will likely reignite debate over the future of four federal dams of the lower Snake River just as the presidential campaign heats up.

Broughton Landing

After two years of deliberations and negotiations, the Columbia River Gorge Commission will decide in 2008 whether to allow Broughton Lumber Co. to build a large destination resort at the company's derelict mill near Underwood. The resort proposal has split the gorge community. Cities and counties are eager for the jobs and taxes the resort could generate, but many recreation users oppose allowing a large commercial development across from a world-class windsurfing site in the nation's only national scenic area.

Mount St. Helens

Southwest Washington's most dyspeptic mountain has been steadily erupting a new lava dome since the fall of 2004 and has been steadily slowing since it recaptured the nation's attention after awakening from an 18-year slumber. In 2008, it should become clear whether the volcano is in an "open system" eruption lasting indefinitely or sputtering to another period of quiescence.

Battle Ground groundbreakings

Ground was broken on the city's community events center this past December, a $4.2 million project that will accommodate large indoor gatherings. The 12,000-square-foot center is set to open this summer and will have a large dining area for about 260, commercial kitchen space and other rooms for smaller events.

Ground should be broken during the summer on a $20 million Home Depot store, on the south side of Northeast 219th Street at 102nd Avenue.

Construction on the Interstate 5 interchange leading into the city will continue, with the $56 million project expected to open in 2009.

Building in Ridgefield

Construction will continue on various projects. They include an expansion of the city's sewage treatment plant, a $9.4 million project to increase capacity from 700,000 to 1 million gallons a day.

The city also will continue working on two water wells at a cost of $320,000. Construction on a 1 million gallon reservoir will begin this year. The $1.6 million project will replace an existing 100,000-gallon reservoir and will better serve development near the Ridgefield interchange on I-5.

Port of Vancouver changes

Despite a tumultuous year that included voter repeal of a tax increase and ouster of longtime Commissioner Arch Miller, the port had a successful year in terms of marine business.

This year is expected to be another good year for marine business, but there are a few wild cards that could upset the market. The housing slump has reduced wood imports from New Zealand, and the falling dollar is affecting exports of scrap metal.

The latest energy bill passed by Congress left out tax credits for the wind industry. That could hurt the port's specialty cargo, which last year was primarily wind turbines.

Military matters

The toll of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan almost certainly will surpass 4,000 in 2008. The death toll passed 3,900 by year's end.

Thirteen local soldiers and Marines and one contractor from Clark County have been killed in the war on terror since the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001.

The number of American troops in Iraq could to drop to 130,000 or even to 100,000 by the end of the year, down from a high of 169,000 American troops in late 2007.

Building history

The long-awaited Vancouver Land Bridge from Fort Vancouver over state Highway 14 to the Columbia River is scheduled to open to the public in April.

Among the seven projects developed by the Vancouver-based Confluence Project under the direction of the artist Maya Lin, the Sandy River Delta and Chief Timothy Park projects also will open in 2008.

Washougal walkway

A pedestrian tunnel is likely to be built under state Highway 14 linking a refurbished downtown Washougal with the dike trail along the Columbia River. The trail leads to Capt. William Clark Park at Cottonwood Beach and the Steigerwald Lake Wildlife Refuge, which also is likely to see new trails and tourist facilities built in 2008.


Long-simmering arguments about big developments in east Clark County are likely to come to a head in 2008. In 2007, the $350 million RiverWalk Development was planned on 65 acres. But miscues in the purchase of property stalled that project, which has shrunk to perhaps 14 acres. Whether building will proceed is open to question.

Bonds for schools

It could be a tough year to win voter approval of spendy construction bond measures.

But that's what the Evergreen, Ridgefield, Woodland, and, possibly, Hockinson school districts will attempt, most likely in May.

Evergreen will ask for nearly $200 million. Some portion would be used to get several hundred students out of portables, but more dollars would be used to repair or replace roofs, heating-cooling systems, wiring, computers and other components in existing schools that languished during a decadelong building spree.

Ridgefield and Woodland want to construct new high schools. Hockinson won't build a new school yet, but the district needs more land and upgrades at buildings filled nearly to capacity.

How Clark County home values change, and their effect on school votes, will be worth watching in 2008.

Graduation looms

The stakes are higher for high school seniors this year.

Gone are the days of snoozing through enough classes to snag a high school diploma. This year's seniors are the first who must pass reading and writing portions of the state standardized exam, not to mention a year-end project and written plan for the future. As of December, the number of Clark County students who may not graduate because of these new standards had reached about 2,500, enough students to fill two high schools.

The question no one has yet answered remains: What will happen to those who fall short: another year of classes, a GED program, or some other option?

Don Hamilton, Associated Press
Crossroads Await in '08 for County
The Columbian, January 1, 2008

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