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CRC project headed for a showdown this Friday

Posted by on December 1st, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Anti 12-lane CRC Ride-37
A meeting Friday could have major
implications for how we
cross I-5 in the future.
(Photos © J. Maus)

This Friday, the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) project will be put to a crucial test. At a meeting of the Project Sponsor’s Council, CRC staff will present the council members — which include Department of Transportation directors and mayors from both Vancouver and Portland — with a new proposed bridge design that reflects “refinements” that have taken $650 million off the project’s estimated cost.

The revised proposal has garnered support from some legislators, who see the project as a much-needed jobs stimulus. That might give CRC staff and other supporters of the project a feeling of renewed momentum for a project that has been dogged by controversy and eroding political support for months.

A protest action against the project by the grassroots Stop the CRC! coalition is expected to happen during the Sponsor’s Council meeting and several major environmental and transportation advocacy groups have called for a complete re-boot of the project.

Vancouver City Council passes helmet law-11.jpg
Newly elected Vancouver mayor Tim
Leavitt could play an interesting
role in Friday’s meeting.

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) is not impressed with the revised design. They’re encouraging their members to attend the Stop the CRC! protest and they’ve lent support to the activists behind it. The BTA’s Michelle Poyourow says the cost reductions have been nothing more than symbolic. “We need a set of real choices of how to fix I-5, not a false choice of nothing at all or this gargantuan project.” Poyourow says they want the Sponsor’s Council to take a step back, re-evaluate the goals of the project — like moving more people across the river, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing congestion — and “start again.”

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She says the DOT directors from Washington and Oregon — both of whom are key supporters of the project — are focused too much on highways. “They’re experts on highways, but some of the solutions that may get us to the outcomes everyone wants, might not have to do with the highway.”

Portland Mayor Sam Adams is on the Sponsors Council. His Transportation Policy Advisor Catherine Ciarlo told us this morning that he’s currently getting an in-depth look at the refined CRC design. While Ciarlo says Adams “remains really determined to see the goals of the project used to make decisions about what gets cut,” she also added that Adams is aware of “consternation” about how the new proposal impacts Hayden Island residents (they’re rallying to save their Safeway that would be lost if the current design gets built).

Ciarlo maintains that Adams’ main objective is to make sure we get the “right project,” which by her definition is a project that is the “least expensive, most effective way to achieve our goals.” The goals Ciarlo refers to are a set of performance measures Adams won support for in the project as part of a compromise for his vote in support of a 12-lane bridge back in March.

Sitting across from Adams on the Sponsor’s Council is Metro President David Bragdon. Ciarlo says Bragdon and Adams have been working closely together to “make sure the right project gets built.” Bragdon has a much different opinion on the CRC project than his predecessor on the council Rex Burkholder. Back in October, Bragdon released a statement that said, “The sooner we all acknowledge that the jumbo version would be harmful to our region and unaffordable to toll-payers and taxpayers, the faster we can get on with building something that works.”

‘Something that works’ must include tolls, but another member of Sponsor’s Council, newly elected Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt, won his campaign based in large part on his opposition to them.

Will opposition to the project, growing discontent by Adams and Bragdon, and Leavitt’s self-induced rock-and-a-hard-place political position all add up to the wheels coming off of the CRC? Or will $650 million worth of cuts be enough to make it a palatable project to the powers-that-be?

BTA staffer Michelle Poyourow thinks the cutbacks recently made to the project “show that community opposition to highway expansion has real power” and she feels several members of the Project Spnosor’s Council are hearing that message loud and clear. Poyourow seems optimistic about Friday, adding, “It’s going to be really interesting.”


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Comments
  • AaronF December 1, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    The anti-crc website is really light on content! Maybe they should spend less time making signs & chanting and more time scheming for a more realistic solution than:

    “Let’s use that money for light rail, street cars, buses and bicycles. Let’s create livable communities; not more sprawl, congestion and pollution. Let’s stop making cuts to funding for education and expand health care coverage, before building multi-billion dollar bridges!”

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  • kitten December 1, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    this is really exciting. the CRC will go down in flames! and a beautiful, people-friendly phoenix shall rise from it’s ashes. I have no idea how we get there from here, however.

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  • kitten December 1, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    oh, and I totally agree with comment #1: all that hollow rhetoric does nothing to advance their cause. we need pictures, maps, renderings, before/after’s, youtubes. these all speak to folks who are not policy wonks. i would help, but I am not gifted in any particular above area. I know it is easier said than done.

    People really freaked when the initial renderings of the 12 laner were released, towering over the island, downtown vancouver: it was a horrible sight, and goes to show how not PR savvy the people are who made em. but it opens up a great opportunity to come up with a new vision (literally) and a new plan.
    lastly, “Stop the CRC” needs to say something other than “no” and offer a compelling alternative plan, at least looking in the right direction. Changing the tone of the debate.

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  • SteveG December 1, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    Jonathan et al-

    The better site to reference, with regard to the effort to stop the CRC, is probably this one:

    http://smarterbridge.org/

    I think there’s a lot more content on this site.

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  • Brad December 1, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    CRC in some form is going to get built. No politician is going to go against the stimulus and jobs this will create locally.

    Do I like it? No. But Oregon and Washington Democrats are not going to allow themselves to be vulnerable to GOP attacks that they failed to provide much needed jobs for a region with some of the worst unemployment in the country. Continued high unemployment and voter dissatisfaction is the card Republicans will play in 2010.

    Local pols? Sammy is against CRC for now but he’ll eventually do what “Mayor” Leonard wants him to – vote for union jobs in Portland. Saltzman follows the wind and the two freshmen, Fritz and Fish, will lay low. Metro does what their corporate overlords demand.

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  • Boulder Web Designer December 1, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    I used to live in Vancouver and in Portland using the bridge to cross the river for years “risky and unpleasant.” Honestly… after living in both cities and knowing how bike friendly i.e. “smart” Portland is and how dense i.e. “unwilling to see the vision” Vancouver is and the horrible renderings they came up with. I finally moved out of the area because I don’t believe that the CRC will accomplish anything until the bridge is unusable. The situation is worse than the traffic backed up for miles in every direction.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor-in-Chief) December 1, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    Brad wrote:

    “CRC in some form is going to get built. No politician is going to go against the stimulus and jobs this will create locally.”

    It’s funny. I’ve thought the opposite ever since I first heard about this project. It’s always seemed like I couldn’t imagine it actually happening because of the political fallout for anyone in Portland that was in office while it happened (at least that is, as long as it was seen as a “mega bridge highway project” without the communities best interest in mind — which is still what it remains to many people today).

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  • Rico December 1, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    RE: Comment #2

    “the CRC will go down in flames! and a beautiful, people-friendly phoenix shall rise from it’s ashes.”

    Please don’t let a Phoenix rise from it’s ashes. Phoenix is the pits.

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  • peejay December 1, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    Jonathan:

    Not very clear on the logistics of this action in your article. The location is 121 NW Everett, and the time is Friday at 10AM. We should really be there a little early, to make sure people attending the Project Sponsor’s Council Meeting are aware of our numbers.

    I can find no info on whether the public is allowed to attend the meeting. If so, we must maintain a (polite but resolute) presence for the duration of the meeting. If we are shut down in any way that is not fair, we should have a planned response.

    peejay, I’ve added information for the meeting location and links to the details for the protest. And yes, the meeting is open to the public. — Jonathan

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  • Frustrated December 1, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    As a cyclist I think we really need a better crossing to the other side of the river. I am Vancouver resident who commutes to Portland by bike, and this is easily the most dangerous and convoluted part of my ride. The crossing is too narrow, direction of riders/walkers is not consistent, it is COVERED with pigeon poop and someone has to get over to the side to let the other person going in the other direction past. Also, it is badly lit in the dark, and vexing with the car lights poring through the steel beams.

    Then my ride goes through Hayden Island: Here, I have to loop around to the right, go under the bridge, take the first left on the sidewalk, wait at three intersections (two with traffic lights), and get back on the sidewalk to ride past Safeway, on my way to Delta Park.

    You could say “just live in Portland,” But we live in Vancouver because we want to live near where my wife works: that was our compromise, and it is not possible to do otherwise at this time.

    I suggest any cyclists who are saying “no new bridge” (vs a compromise) actually go and ride the disaster that is the current bridge.

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  • John Lascurettes December 1, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    Regarding content for the NO-CRC site. The should definitely consider some of these videos:

    http://bikeportland.org/2009/08/27/series-of-web-videos-help-explain-crc-project/

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  • Tim December 1, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    So since they are adding a toll to this design. Will Cyclist also have to pay a toll? Does this mean they will also be adding a toll to the 205 bridge?

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  • Racer X December 1, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    A fair bike toll would be a weight based toll – something like 3 to 5 cents a crossing = to the $3 to $5 a driver might pay.

    We can give a credit for the weight of the driver or bicyclist – just to be fair.

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  • Thinking out of the box December 1, 2009 at 11:01 pm

    How about a tunnel for the cars? They could use the boring machines used for the Portland CSO currently in process. Leave one of the spans for bikes/peds/buses.

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  • wsbob December 2, 2009 at 12:15 am

    There’s all kinds of interesting situations posed by the bridge proposal.

    Within the last couple days, an article in the Oregonian reported on how the latest reduced cost bridge design involves an approach ramp crossing directly through the island Safeway store. No more grocery store…no more pharmacy for island residents.

    Safeway isn’t being offered any guarantee of full compensation for the loss of their facility. If Safeway, big company that it is, doesn’t decide to stick around, some other grocer will probably fill the gap.

    If not, islanders might have to set up a couple of trailers for a general store and an apothecary.

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  • peejay December 2, 2009 at 6:42 am

    I have yet to hear a serious, cogent argument against tolling yet — other than “people in Washington State don’t want to pay a toll and they’re a big political constituency, so their desires must be accommodated.”

    All those people who scream “socialism,” “govmint handouts” and the like might appreciate the market justification for tolling. There is a limited SUPPLY of bridge crossings at the time when most people wish to cross, and a high DEMAND. Whenever that happens, the market dictates that the PRICE be INCREASED to match the market conditions, so that the COST of the SERVICE provided can be met, plus some PROFIT that can be used to INVEST in future SERVICES. Anybody who crosses the bridge by bike adds to the SUPPLY of crossings available at that time, in addition to reducing the COST of providing the crossing SERVICE. It is not logical to toll cyclists until such time as there’s congestion at the bike path during rush hour.

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  • Erik December 2, 2009 at 7:14 am

    Keep I205 toll-free. Let’s route the through traffic around downtown. That was its purpose anyway.

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  • Andrew December 2, 2009 at 10:23 am

    About the Stop the CRC Web site issue:

    The reason the Smarter Bridge site is not linked to is that the last update on that site was in March. While the members of the so-called “Smarter Bridge Coalition” have paid staff that could be pushing this, they are not.

    It’s up to the 10 people in a living room pushing to Stop the CRC to actually provide updates, news links and content for y’all. So please, forgive the lack of detail.

    And as for a clear objective, we definitely have one. Sorry it hasn’t been more clearly articulated. We are not just saying “no.”

    What we want is an inclusive, back-to-the-drawing-board approach to work with large groups of stakeholders and average citizens to find the best alternative through this century and the next.

    This project should meet three objectives:
    1. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.
    2. Prioritize alternative transportation.
    3. Be consistent with goals to develop livable communities.

    The 12- and 10-lane designs do not accomplish any of these.

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  • Bob_M December 2, 2009 at 10:30 am

    Clearly there are flaws in the 4 billion dollar mega project. Still there are valid reasons to build a new bridge. The approaches are below standard, the bridges are below standard, there are no shoulders on the bridge, the ramps are below standard and the bike lanes are below standard. The inspiration for the new bridge is to improve safety for drivers, to provide light rail crossing and good bicycle crossing. Hate it or love it, the transportation system in the United States currently depends on vehicles, and this bridge (in what ever permutation) would improve the safety of drivers and movement of vehicles.

    Sure current motor vehicles spew climate changing carbon, but a new bridge will out last internal combustion technology. The bridge will be neutral in that argument, unless the light rail over the river (anticipated as part of the project) actually decreases the use of commuter vehicles, in which case the bridge may result in less carbon emissions. Sure uncontrolled traffic flow over the easier conveyance of a new bridge will move the bulge of congestion to pinch points in Portland. Tolls can control that by discouraging frivolous crossings (and to the delight of many BikePortland readers, punish Vancouvarians for their autocentric lifestyle and sprawling pattern of development). Purposeful travel should be encouraged. Travel makes us better people.

    Sure we need high speed rail, more light rail, fixed potholes, better bicycle facilities and better schools, but the bridge funds will not go to these projects if the bridge is not built, that money just leaves. The CRC is not a jobs project, but since when did good paying design, engineering and construction jobs for our neighbors become anathema to the goals of the cycling community.

    From the sound of the debate, it seems that the only way CRC opponents will be happy is if we lived in the country before the arrival of European settlers, but still had bicycles.

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  • Andrew December 2, 2009 at 10:35 am

    Sure we need high speed rail, more light rail, fixed potholes, better bicycle facilities and better schools, but the bridge funds will not go to these projects if the bridge is not built, that money just leaves.

    What money?! This project has been funded by state dollars from Washington and Oregon, and is vastly short of any sort of real funding source. You can be damn sure that the feds won’t be ponying up the balance, as articulated by Rep. DeFazio, a key player in federal highway funding.

    If there were money for this project, construction would be under way. But, this new “on sale” design is still far too costly. Hence Robert Liberty’s drive for a deadline to actually have something agreed upon.

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  • Brad December 2, 2009 at 11:40 am

    Congressman De Fazio has only stated his objections to the scale and costs of the project as they stood back in April. He has never issued a blanket “No CRC EVER!” statement. Trim the lanes to 10 or less, trim the cost by 20%, and consider tolling and his committee starts flowing the federal dollars.

    Plus, if the polling on congressional races nationwide looks bleak for Democrats, they’ll get pro-business and pro-jobs in a hurry.

    Best case real world scenario? An eight to ten lane bridge gets built with better top deck bike lanes than what exists currently. The bridge is engineered in such a manner that in the future, a traffic lane or two can be removed and replaced with light or high speed rail when personal auto usage wanes. Cars pay a toll to help fund bridge construction and upkeep.

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  • Andrew December 2, 2009 at 11:52 am

    Brad, where did you get that design feature? I haven’t heard anything about that. As I understand it, the 10-lane design has “extended shoulders” to allow for a later conversion to 12 lanes.

    And as for congressional funding, you have a very narrow scope of how these decisions are made. Even if “polling on congressional races nationwide looks bleak for Democrats,” Reps. DeFazio and Blumenauer, and probably Wu, will remain without real challenges.

    And if Oregon leaders starting making decisions based mainly on nationwide polling data, that would show a true leadership void and we’d have far bigger problems on our hands than a mismanaged transportation project.

    Oh, about that first point, I realize now you were just putting forth your ideal. Which is in no way a “best case” or a “real world scenario.”

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  • joeb December 2, 2009 at 11:52 am

    Not to worry about losing the island Safeway. Freeway ramps come with accommodating strip malls.

    I understand the big selling point for the CRC is movement of freight. I wish the mega-bridge project could be broken into a commuter crossing, (light rail, pedestrian… maybe even a one-way peak hour HOV/toll lane or two), and a freight crossing that may include freeway lanes. Start with the commuter project to reduce congestion for freight and stimulate the economy. Then evaluate the requirement for freeway lanes, if necessary. Maybe shave or postpone $2B. Of course Vancouver would not like the idea, but a CRC is still years in the future anyway.

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  • AaronF December 2, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    Andrew… your scope of how these decisions are made seems a bit narrow, ironically.

    My understanding is that decisions about federal funding for local projects are made by committees made up of politicians from regions besides Oregon, and to some degree recommendations by DeFazio would also have to be palatable to others on the committee as well.

    I confess… I think the Brad’s “best case scenario” sounds awfully pragmatic to me.

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  • Brad December 2, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    I firmly believe that the CRC will get built but a smaller, less costly version than what has been originally proposed. It only makes sense that lane cuts would reduce costs and would be the easiest way for bridge proponents to appease those mildly opposed. Will it have bike lanes? Yes. The “extended shoulder” concept makes that a throwaway, no political cost option that they can pitch as “green” or “altrenative transportation friendly”.

    De Fazio, Blumenauer, and Wu are safe no matter what they do. Brian Baird could be challenged and defeated by a Republican if seen by Clark County, WA voters as anti-Vancouver / anti- commuter. As for national politics, if things get tight and the employment picture isn’t improving then doesn’t it stand to reason that the Democrats leadership will tell all of its candidates to pimp public works spending as “job creating, revenue producing” stimulus? I bet the DNC would muzzle Oregon’s Democrats on CRC for fear of hurting Baird up north. Of course, Baird is going to talk up how great CRC will be for Clark County drivers, businesses, and jobs. It would be political suicide for him to oppose it.

    Don’t forget that the state legislature gets elected in 2010 also. Does the Oregon wing of the party want Clackamas and Washington County to go GOP? Republicans could win a lot of support with rhetoric like, “I guess Democrats don’t want Oregonians to have good jobs. They must hate business too. That’s why they oppose the CRC.” True? Dirty? It doesn’t matter because that’s what they will say. If unemployment is still worse than 10%, that message will resonate.

    In closing, please try to remember that we bike riders, transportation wonks, and committed enviromentalists still comprise a minority of the electorate. We should make our voices heard but are outnumbered by car drivers and outspent by the business interests that want CRC built. In my opinion, killing the CRC is futile. Getting it scaled back and built in a more intelligent fashion is a winnable battle.

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  • Doug Allen December 2, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    Peace, Andrew. I have paid for the web hosting and domain name for “SmarterBridge.org” out of my own pocket, as well as doing all the web site maintenance. I haven’t had time lately to add to the site. I have a job and a family that take precedence.

    I would hope that “SmarterBridge.org” stands on its own, for whatever value it can provide, despite the fact that the material is increasingly obsolete. It is still a useful archive. It was never intended to displace, put-down, or compete with any opponents of the CRC.

    On the contrary, I had hoped that it would help inspire more than the few lonesome souls who first met to figure out how to oppose the monster bridge.

    Jonathan and CLF have put forth an amazing effort to help publicize the issue, and the overwhelming support of the bicycle community has been heartening. Whether I should be doing more on this issue today is my own concern, but I did want to set the record straight that there is no funded organization or paid staff behind the “SmarterBridge.org” web site — only the good will of the contributors, who all have relatively limited means, perhaps only one or two zillionths of what is available for the paid publicity campaign behind the bridge.

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  • matthew December 2, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    peejay #16 the main point i’ve consistently heard in opposition to tolling is that it impacts the working class, those on fixed incomes and lower income folks the most, precisely the ones who can least afford this. not just for paying tolls directly themselves but in the higher cost of goods and services across the board. all these higher costs will trickle down to the consumer.

    i do appreciate your thoughts on supply/demand pricing of services. very keen. i just don’t think “john q public” would support the idea. i lean towards socialism and if the socialist party in the u.s. garnered any political clout i’d support them with my vote but alas they do not. tolling for bicycles has never been considered an option and was a question asked directly to crc planning engineers who spoke at a bikeme! vancouver meeting this summer.

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  • rev December 2, 2009 at 11:43 pm

    Word on the street tunneling is uber expensive. BUT a 3rd bridge option has been talked about (briefly) and is still supported by AORTA.

    http://www.aortarail.org/interstate.htm

    I asked the person selling us the bridge at a Clark County meeting if we didn’t like the bridge what are options. It has to be killed here. If they want to build something they can do a lot better than this crap.

    Doug Allen, maybe you could add a link to some of the more regularly updated websites.

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  • Doug Allen December 3, 2009 at 8:02 am

    rev,

    Send a list of good CRC web sites to Jonathan and ask him to forward it to me. I promise to put links to those, prominently, on the home page of “SmarterBridge.org” in addition to the links to the CLF web site and BikePortland that are already there.

    Brad,

    Having watched similar battles since the Mt. Hood Freeway days, I know these bad projects don’t die easily. I sat in the audience at JPACT as Earl Blumenauer voted to put the “West Side Bypass” into the RTP. Losing a particular skirmish is less important than staying in for the long haul. There would be a “Water Avenue Ramp” to I-5 southboud over the East Bank Esplanade if I hadn’t appealed the initial Greenway Permit. I lost before the hearings officer, at City Council, then won at LUBA, then lost at the Court of Appeals. But the sucker was mortally wounded, and never built, thanks to a lot of other folks who carried the battle forward when there was nothing more that I could do to fight it by myself.

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  • Lenny Anderson December 3, 2009 at 10:09 am

    If the highway capacity nuts had had their way in the past, we would not have the Portland we have today; you would recognize the place. They just don’t give up and have lots of resources.
    Remember the heart of the problem on I-5 across the Columbis is too many commuters alone in their cars during the peaks. The bridges we have will be fine for years with the usual seismic upgrades. What’s missing is a arterial bridge for local traffic, for transit and for bicyclists and pedestrians. We need to send the big DOTs packing and hand this over to the cities, counties and regional MPOs to design and build the bridge we need…a “Broadway Bridge.”

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  • Lenny Anderson December 3, 2009 at 10:12 am

    correction: You would NOT recognize the place.

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