Molly Coston returns to the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council as the Camas-Washougal appointee, following votes by the City Councils last night.
Coston, a Washougal councilwoman, replaces former Camas-Washougal RTC representative Dave Shoemaker, who resigned following a controversial vote he cast on Feb. 1 during his first RTC meeting. Washougal Councilwoman Jennifer McDaniel was named the alternate.
In January Shoemaker, a Washougal councilman, succeeded Coston, who had served on the regional council since 2008. In 2009 she was its vice chairwoman, and in 2010 its chairwoman.
During the Feb. 1 meeting, Shoemaker sent what has been described as “shock waves” through local, state and federal legislative circles when he voted against a list of 15 projects that were part of the RTC’s 2012 federal appropriation requests. Projects must be on that list to be considered for certain federal funds.
During that meeting, he specifically mentioned the two Camas projects — appropriations toward the $20 million state Route 14 Slough Bridge widening, and the $2.6 million Northwest 38th Avenue/Southeast 20th Street construction and widening.
Shoemaker said his concerns focused on the dangers of putting bicycle lanes, which are included in the design of both projects, next to fast-moving traffic. In addition, he said he objects to the process for federal funding, and the requirements put on the funding cities receive from the federal government.
“At the present time I am having trouble supporting this based on one, my safety concerns and two, the shortage of supportable data on bicycle usage,” he said during the RTC meeting. “And third, that this is going to be supported by ‘earmarks.'”
The project list was still approved by a majority of the RTC, but Camas Mayor Paul Dennis said Shoemaker’s vote raised numerous red flags. Phone calls and e-mails began coming in from state legislators in Olympia and others, all questioning whether Camas still supported its projects.
Skamania County Commissioner Paul Pearce is the representative for Skamania County, the cities of Stevenson and North Bonneville, and the Port of Skamania on the RTC. He said Shoemaker’s comments and action were unexpected.
“I was taken by surprise when the representative from Camas-Washougal told us that out of a three-page list of projects he wanted to pull two Camas projects to express some displeasure with,” said Pearce, a retired Camas Police Department captain. “I felt that as the representative for both cities he was woefully unprepared to discuss the Camas projects at all, and definitely didn’t discuss [his objections] with Camas.”
“This is the list that has to be adopted to be eligible for any federal funding,” he added. “It really is a very important list.”
After being made aware of the fallout and potential ramifications of his actions, Shoemaker submitted his resignation letter on Feb. 9, following a meeting with Dennis and Washougal Mayor Sean Guard.
“I’m not bitter,” Shoemaker said when reached by phone Friday. “If because of my actions Camas has been disadvantaged, and I represent them, I feel obligated to resign.”
Shoemaker maintains that he did not intend to single out Camas projects.
“I cast the vote knowing in advance that it would be in the minority,” he said in a letter to 41st District Rep. Judy Clibborn, chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee. “Despite my opposing vote, the resolution passed with overwhelming support. It never occurred to me that the Camas projects might be removed at the state level. Nor, according to the standing transportation project planning process, should they have been.”
Dennis said in the current economic circumstances, the political climate is cutthroat.
“Everybody is looking for what are the next cuts,” he said. “We don’t want to give them a reason to get rid of our projects.”
To fill the vacant RTC position, in separate meetings last night the councils were asked to vote for their choice among the three candidates who submitted their names for consideration — Guard, Coston and McDaniel.
The Camas council voted 7 to 0 in favor of Coston, with McDaniel as the alternate.
In Washougal, Coston, Paul Greenlee, McDaniel and Rod Morris voted for Coston, while Shoemaker, Jon Russell and Michael Delavar cast votes for McDaniel. With a total of 11 votes, Coston was named Shoemaker’s replacement.
In addition to resolutions of support for the Camas projects approved by both councils last night, Dennis said letters will also be drafted by the Clark County Commission and the Port of Camas-Washougal Commission, and delivered to Southwest Washington legislative delegates.
Council members from both cities seemed to agree that a greater level of communication between the two jurisdictions was needed, and a specific set of guidelines for selecting the local RTC representative should be discussed and implemented.
“I think a lot of this centered around communication,” Dennis said. “Maintaining good communication is important in any relationship. When you don’t communicate, that is when you can be at your worst.”
Greenlee suggested developing partnerships between the two cities should be a priority.
“We are ‘East County,'” he said. “In a lot of ways we are in the same boat. It’s important here that we have a relationship with Camas that is based on mutual trust and respect. I think that moving forward the election of Council member Coston as the East County RTC representative and Jennifer McDaniel as the alternate will help that process along.”