Sunday, June 15, 2014
Who knows why C-Tran officials gave away the store to Trimet
Last year, the C-Tran Board of Directors approved a deal that would allow the Portland transit agency to use C-Tran’s eminent domain authority to acquire property for the expansion of light rail into Clark County, and also spelled out how the agencies would operate that expansion. The contract understandably raised many eyebrows — and many hackles — on this side of river, and it was predicated on approval of the Columbia River Crossing project that was then still in the works.
Now, the CRC plan to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge is dead, and yet the C-Tran contract lives on. The deal has no expiration date, and the demise of the CRC means that it is dormant but not deceased. That leaves C-Tran board members playing the role of Dr. Frankenstein in pondering how to kill the monster they created.
At a meeting Tuesday, according to Columbian reporter Eric Florip, board members delicately broached the subject while attempting to avoid specifics. Florip wrote that C-Tran attorney Tom Wolfendale “cautioned the board against going into too much detail publicly, given the legal ramifications of terminating a binding contract.” The result was that the C-Tran board pledged to take a vote in July on whether to terminate the agreement.
As mentioned, caution is warranted, as the deal includes a $5 million penalty for breach of contract by either party. But C-Tran board members must find a solution between now and July to terminate a deal that adds to the stench of the CRC carcass. The need for all this hand-wringing points out flaws in the contract, and the fact that C-Tran officials did not include an out clause in the event of the CRC’s demise is difficult to fathom.
“Since there is no CRC project funded, it would seem prudent to do what you can to remove that contract so that it no longer exists,” state Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, told board members.
Ideally, the C-Tran board will reach agreement with TriMet officials to scuttle the contract. If no CRC exists — the project’s office officially closed last month after neither Washington nor Oregon provided funding — then surely TriMet can see no reason to keep the agreement on life support. Although the CRC has met its demise, sooner or later another proposal to replace the I-5 Bridge will arise, and TriMet officials will be looking for partnership on this side of the river; they would be wise not to burn bridges, so to speak. And if TriMet refuses to kill the contract, then critics will have additional grist for the conspiracy mill.
For now, the C-Tran/TriMet agreement lives on while local officials ponder their next move. One theory for the delay is that C-Tran board member Ed Barnes, newly installed as a Clark County Commissioner and therefore a member of the board, did not have time to be brought up to speed on the contract. Another theory is that the $5 million penalty is keeping officials from killing the deal. Either way, the public would be better served by openness regarding the proceedings. If those are the reasons, C-Tran board members should inform the public, particularly considering the angst that was generated by the contract in the first place.
While the agreement between C-Tran and TriMet is dormant, that’s not as good as dead for a deal that raised more questions than it answered.
In Our View: Contract Killing | The Columbian