The Columbia River Crossing story of intrigue continues to reveal bizarre twists and turns that baffle common sense. For the first time in recent years, a legislative body was able to hear from sources other than the CRC yesterday. What was presented was nothing short of jaw dropping.
The CRC Light Rail Tolling project - rushing ahead while ignoring danger signs.
To understand the big picture and the context, I must explain the background. One year ago, the Oregon Legislature was shocked to discover that large sums of money, $40 million, had been siphoned from the Oregon Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) budget and given to the CRC Light Rail Tolling project without the knowledge or specific authorization of the legislature. The budget ODOT gets is usually spent on operations and maintenance and is discretionary on how it is spent. To have their funds siphoned for a special project is out of the ordinary. It left many Oregonians to languish with rampant potholes that received little to no attention. Normally, for special projects like the CRC, a request is made to the legislature, and oversight is put into place when the funds are dispersed.
Several things happened in quick succession to stir the legislature to take swift action to protect the public treasury, but that did not stop the flow of funds. To date, $65 million has been drained from their public treasury even though they are struggling to balance their budget with several cutbacks to essential services.
Up to that time, most Oregon legislators were in the dark and heard very little about the CRC. The first exposure was the Cortright Report
, a concise report by Joe Cortright, a highly respected Oregon economist known by many of the legislators. The Cortright Report, commissioned by Plaid Pantry CEO Chris Girard, clearly revealed the fallacious assertions by the CRC using their own documentation and pointed to a disastrous financial failure if approved.
One Oregon legislator, Tina Kotek
was as much of a proponent of the CRC as Mayor Tim Leavitt is here in Vancouver. She sent an email to her fellow legislators urging them not to read the Cortright Report. However, out of curiosity and suspecting that something might be amiss, many of them did read it and were alerted to the pressing situation.
Around the same time the Cortright Report was released, the CRC sent a letter to the Oregon legislature urging them to send a letter to Congress in support of the light rail tolling project. In a fortunate turn of events, Sharon Nasset
, an expert on the CRC, became aware of the stir in Salem and met with many of them. The legislature was about to approve a biannual budget, but to guard against further unaccountable loss – and in a rare legislative move – they attached a “Budget Note” that required some accountability of the CRC. As a Budget Note is not legally binding, ODOT initially stated they would not follow it.
Sharon Nasset informed the legislators of Forensic Accountant, Tiffany Couch. She was invited to Salem and presented her findings to them. As a result, the legislature threatened to hold up ODOT’s $850 million budget if ODOT did not agree to follow the Budget Note. ODOT relented and agreed. The oversight committee was formed and was made up of ten Oregon Legislators.
The first meeting in September 2011 was simply to organize and instruct ODOT to prepare all their records for scrutiny by the committee.
The second meeting was Dec. 7
, and the reaction from the committee was one of astonishment as they began to uncover what was going on with the CRC. The Budget Note also directed the Oregon Treasurer to analyze the tolling numbers being advanced by the CRC and evaluate the risks.
Click to see treasurer's PowerPoint.
Even though the CRC had still not provided real numbers that would indicate how much the tolls would be, the Oregon Treasurer reported that the CRC tolling scenarios were not realistic and clearly revealed an estimated $407 million shortfall. ODOT and WSDOT responded by indicating the tolls would need to be much higher than the range they had originally stated. The CRC toll scenarios were not corrected, but are generally expected to be much higher than what is stated in their documents. In addition, trucks will also be charged per axel.
The third meeting in February 2012 was brought to an abrupt halt after a dramatic entrance by Patricia McCaig, a highly paid David Evans staff member also assigned to Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber. McCaig burst into the room and interrupted the meeting, telling the committee that they had heard the critics and knew there were problems, and had come up with a phased construction plan called Plan B.
Plan B would include building a 50 foot by 800 foot berm on Hayden Island, adding temporary ramps on Mill Plain, Fourth Plain, and Marine Drive and extend the construction period to approximately 15 to 17 years. No one from ODOT, no one from WSDOT, nor any experts – not even Nancy Boyd, Director of the CRC, had been consulted. After the meeting, Plan B was rejected as unrealistic.
Yesterday’s Oregon Legislators meeting was the fourth meeting on the CRC. Little was said about the CRC getting the bridge height part of the project 30 feet too low, nor that the US Coast Guard rejected the obvious unacceptability of it, and that now the design work has to start over again. Instead, for the first time in years, the overseers actually were able to listen to experts and organizations that had not been handpicked by the CRC or the Governors.
After listening for almost four hours, the panel concluded that they had so many questions that it would not make sense to start asking them now. They would need to convene more meetings.
With that, the meeting ended.
The Record of Decision (ROD), which now appears to have been based on fraudulent information, provides the authorization to look for CRC funding. Tolling can start as soon as funding is received. In the meantime, the CRC continues to spend $2 million per month.* It is scheduled to start drilling holes in Hayden Island and is moving forward to condemn and close businesses
, all without correcting their documents.
A short list of proponents, who are entrusted with the stewardship of the public treasury, are pushing the CRC including Mayor Tim Leavitt, Councilmen Bart Hansen and Larry Smith, Paul Montague, Identity Clark County, Columbia River Economic Development Council, Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, Scott Campbell, State Representatives Jim Moeller and Sharon Wylie.
These people are ignoring the red flags and deep concerns expressed by the experts, such as the highly credentialed forensic account Tiffany Couch
, economist Joseph Cortright
, world-renown bridge architect Kevin Peterson
, and a host of others, all in an effort to use tolls and debt to force light rail into Vancouver at any cost.
The CRC is spending millions each month even though there appears to be no RFPs (Request for Proposals) to authorize it. The Record Of Decision is done. Yet, the spending continues.
There is an appropriate time to push the pause button. We will continue to inform our community of the situation and encourage citizens to help others learn about this unfolding story. What do we do? We start by spreading the word and speaking up. We work to elect new leadership and elect those that will protect the public treasury and insist on transparency, accountability and good sense.
How much is your future worth to you?
*Figures gathered from the CRC by Tiffany Couch show this monthly breakdown: July 2011 – $2 million, August 2011 – $1.7 million, September 2011 – $1.7 million, October 2011 – $2.1 million.