Ley responds to councilman’s letter regarding Camas Slough Bridge

Camas City Councilman Steve Hogan stated in a recent Letter to the Editor (“Senator transparent about Camas Slough Bridge funding,” published in the June 25, 2020 Camas-Washougal Post-Record’s Opinion section) that he and the former mayor were “transparent” about moving the $25 million funding for the Camas Slough Bridge replacement to Vancouver. Were they?

A few questions. What date did former Camas Mayor Scott Higgins and former Washougal Mayor Sean Guard meet with Washington state senator Ann Rivers? Who else was present? Was the decision to move the funds agreed to at that time or when was the decision made to move the funds? Was the Camas City Council fully briefed on the topic before the meeting? Was the Washougal City Council briefed on the topic before the meeting? What were the dates of those briefings, “in public”, so citizens can check the minutes and records of city council meetings and/or workshops? What date did Sen. Rivers submit the request to the legislature to move the funds?

Two members of the Washougal City Council (Dan Coursey and Dave Shoemaker) have told me personally they were not briefed by anyone, Sen. Rivers nor former Mayor Guard, about the movement of the $25 million until it was a “done deal.” Both characterized the revelation by former Mayor Guard as a “slip of the tongue.” They believe the mayor did not intend to share that information with them at that time.

Hogan says the city could not afford a $3 million to $6 million “contribution” towards replacing the bridge. Apparently, Councilor Hogan, the former mayor, and the entire city council believed they would get the entire bridge paid for with zero contribution by Camas? What other major transportation projects in the history of Camas have required zero contribution?

Presently, Camas is spending $8 million on the Lake-Everett roundabout, on state Route 500. They received about $3.3 million in “grants” from the state. The rest is coming from Camas, and the city council chose to borrow the entire amount. Why wouldn’t Camas seek similar financing for the Slough Bridge? Knowing this is a safety issue, why hadn’t Camas set aside funds in a savings account in advance?

Next: In the same gas tax transportation package, the city of Washougal received state money for a road/bridge to cross over railroad tracks. After evaluating alternatives, the Washougal city council decided they could not afford their contribution towards the specified project. Instead of losing the money (as Hogan says would happen to Camas), the City Council and Mayor successfully asked to move the funds to build roundabouts on state Route 14. The movement of those funds was approved. Those two, $2.2 million (each) roundabouts have been constructed. Washougal did not lose the money. Why would Camas lose the money when Washougal didn’t?

Councilor Hogan said Camas couldn’t find $3 million to $6 million for a contribution on a known safety issue. Yet in 2019, two to three years later, Councilor Hogan and the entire City Council raised their hands in favor of borrowing $78 million for a pool and recreation center. How is it possible the city could not afford $3 million to $6 million for a known bottleneck and safety issue, but can afford $78 million for a pool and recreation center?

In March 2020, Councilor Hogan and the City Council raised their hands unanimously voting to spend $17 million (all borrowed) to purchase “legacy lands” for a park on the north shore of Lacamas Lake. Why is such a huge park a higher priority than a known bottleneck and safety issue on SR-14?

Now let us look at what Sen. Rivers did tell her constituents prior to her final vote to raise gas taxes. She said that if she didn’t vote for the higher gas taxes, we would not get any transportation projects. She painted a word picture of paying for a nice steak dinner but watching someone else eat the meal you paid for.

The March 21, 2015 Columbian states senators Cleveland and Benton both voted against raising gas taxes. Yet in the package passed by the Senate, “half” the $160 million allocated was for a Cleveland project to rebuild the Mill Plain/I-5 interchange, and another $35 million to widen SR-14 in Benton’s Vancouver district. There was $21.4 million for the Camas Slough Bridge.

So how is it Senator Cleveland votes “no” on the gas tax, and walks away with over $80 million for a perfectly good interchange? How is it Senator Benton votes “no” and walks away with money for widening SR-14?

Yes, the final “conference committee” between the House version and Senate version apparently eliminated the $35 million in Benton’s district, but delivered $25 million for the Camas Slough Bridge.

But why was it necessary in 2016 or 2017, for Senator Rivers to move the money to a Vancouver project out of her district? The $83 million Vancouver has ‘in the bank” could have been tapped to fund the east Vancouver SR-14 project, still leaving over $50 million for the unneeded I-5/Mill Plain project. (More on that in a future letter).

In June 2016, the city council approved an update to their six-year transportation plan. It included $25 million for the Camas Slough Bridge.

In the end, there have been a lot of games played by incumbent elected officials. The Washougal City Council was not “briefed in” regarding the movement of the funds until after it was a done deal. I welcome Councilor Hogan providing public records showing the dates and discussions of Camas city officials with citizens, showing we the taxpayers were afforded ample opportunities to object to the movement of the funds before it was a done deal.

John Ley, of Camas, is a Republican candidate running in the August primary election in a bid to unseat state Senator Ann Rivers, the Republican incumbent representing Washington’s 18th Legislative District, which includes the cities of Camas and Washougal.

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