Today's winner: The Washington State Department of Transportation. 

Legislation that passed out of the state house transportation committee today would allow WSDOT to continue construction on the 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington in spite of an appeal, filed by the Coalition for a Sustainable 520, charging that the project violates the state Shoreline Management Act.

Under current law, an appeal under the SMA (uniquely among state environmental laws) requires a project to shut down until the appeal is resolved, typically within six months. WSDOT argued that this would set the project back a year (because of fish migration schedules and bad weather), costing the state $165 million in fees to the main bridge contractor, Kiewit.

Environmentalists have argued that the legislation sets a dangerous precedent for the state to sidestep environmental laws when it finds them inconvenient. Futurewise lobbyist April Putney told the house transportation committee today, "Our opposition to this bill is not about the 520 project. It's also not about the merits of the shoreline appeals that have been filed. It really is about the dangerous precedent that we think you're setting that WSDOT doesn't have to abide by our existing environmental laws or other laws that state agencies [are supposed] to abide by."

Today's loser: The Washington State Department of Transportation.[pullquote]"I think the most significant victory is that we have now prevented WSDOT from building a partial bridge, which is the worst nightmare for us."—Rep. Jamie Pedersen[/pullquote]

While WSDOT got its way on the Shoreline Management Act---proportionally, a much larger win---they did have to make one concession. The original bill made the mistake of irking residents on the bridge's west side landing (constituents of three powerful legislators—speaker Rep. Frank Chopp, judiciary chair Rep. Jamie Pedersen, and senate budget chair Sen. Ed Murray, all D-43). The bill would have capped the amount of money spent for mitigation on the west-side portion of the 520 project---that is, the portion that goes through Montlake and Roanoke Park in Seattle. That mitigation includes things like large lids over both neighborhoods.

A compromise, brokered largely by Rep.  Pedersen, who lives in Capitol Hill, eliminates the cap, and stipulates that construction on the westside can't begin until WSDOT has identified a way to pay for it.

"There was a risk that they would get that part done and there would never be any funding or authorization to complete the rest of the project, including the mitigation that the westside communities were promised," Pedersen says. "I think the most significant victory is that we have now prevented WSDOT from building a partial bridge, which is the worst nightmare for us."

Honorable mention as today's Jolt winner: Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34, Burein, W. Seattle) stuck by his larger environmental principles and voted against the compromise, despite the limited win for Seattle.

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