Plan to lower I-5 bridge impacts river users

Credit: KGW

A barge with drilling components bound for Prudhoe Bay, Alaska passed, barely, under the lifted I-5 bridge in July of 2011.

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by Abbey Gibb

kgw.com

Posted on June 5, 2013 at 7:48 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 5 at 4:43 PM

PORTLAND --The new plan for the Interstate 5 bridge would lower it from the current 178 feet of clearance to 116 feet, affecting three companies upriver, more downstream and thousands of jobs.

Oregon Iron Works sits on the Washington side of the Columbia and has been a dominant fabrication company since the 1970s.

"We are building parts that will go to four different states and materials that have come from five different states," said Thomas Hickman with Oregon Iron Works.

All of the materials they use go under a bridge span now pegged at 116 feet. That move would make some of this company's larger projects, like oil rigs, impossible to get under the bridge.

"We know we’re going to be limited in the work that we do," admitted Hickman.

But unlike similar companies, Oregon Iron Works doesn't have to worry. They and one other company, Greenberry Industrial, reached a deal Tuesday. Final figures will not be known until this September, said CRC spokeswoman Mandy Putney. The compensation for the three companies will fall between $30 and $116 million, she said.

"It makes enough of a difference that it allows us to continue to move forward," said Hickman.

But not everyone is so lucky.

The U.S. Coast Guard hosted a meeting Tuesday at Jantzen Beach's Red Lion on the River. The Coast Guard, along with the Oregon and Washington state legislatures, must all sign off on the project and wanted to hear from businesses.

“For us, 85 percent of our customers are moored upstream,” said Chris Backin with Schooner Boat Works, which sits downriver of the bridge and could be put out of business. They have not received any compensation.

Larger companies like Thompson Metal Fab upstream, stand to lose 30 percent of their work.

“We are the only operating manufacturer consistently needing 178 foot lift span afforded in the existing I-5 bridge,” said John Rudi.

They also are the only major company upriver that has yet to reach a mitigation deal. They’re asking for help relocating the whole company downriver.

Time is running out for the Coast Guard to give its approval. The federal dollars needed for the project expire this fall.

The Coast Guard takes testimony again on Wednesday, June 5, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Hilton Hotel in Vancouver, at 01 West 6th St.

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