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Two bridges caught in latest Buy America flare-up

Published by Brad Fougere on September 17, 2014

iPolitics reporter BJ Siekierski writes that a Colorado town may be out infrastructure funding if it doesn't incur $20,000 in costs to remove $800 worth of Canadian steel in a Buy America dispute gone wild.

Repairs to a small bridge in Colorado may have to be torn up because the contractor used Canadian steel, violating Buy America content provisions.

In response, one of Canada’s largest industry associations — the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters — is asking the Harper government to give American steel the same treatment in its $5 billion Champlain Bridge project in Montreal.

On the American side of the equation, Canada’s consul general in Denver — Marcy Grossman — put it simply in the Denver Post over the weekend.

“Does it really make sense that $800 worth of American steel rolled in Canada may cost the Colorado taxpayer an additional $20,000?” she asked.

She was referring to the recent $144,000 in repairs to Morrison, Colorado’s South Park Street Bridge, funded by a grant from the Federal Highway Administration via the Colorado Department of Transportation — repairs that used exactly $771.64 too much Canadian steel to meet Buy American requirements for federally-funded projects.

Since the Morrison town board’s request for a waiver was rejected by the Federal Highway Administration, it now looks as though the town will have no choice but to disassemble the bridge and replace the Canadian iron and steel with American product, at an estimated cost of $20,000 for three months’ work.

If it doesn’t, the town loses all funding for the project.Morrison’s mayor has tried to appeal to their congressman, Democrat Jared Polis, to intervene. So far, they don’t appear to be having much success.

On the Canadian side, Jason Myers, the president and CEO the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME), is using Morrison as the latest example of American protectionism in U.S. transportation infrastructure procurement.

And he and the CME want the Harper government to fight back.

In June the Harper government took the U.S. to task at the WTO over alleged Buy America violations of the Agreement on Government Procurement. It wasn’t quite ready, though, to make use of the agreement’s dispute settlement mechanism.But that’s not what Myers and CME have in mind.

“It is quite shocking that while Canada does not impose any restrictions to U.S. steel manufacturers for construction of bridges and other large infrastructure projects, Canadian steel manufacturers are being treated unfairly by the U.S. government and its Buy America policy,” Myers is quoted in a press release CME put out Monday.

“The kind of situation happening in Colorado should be a wake-up call for the Canadian government to start using their own purchasing power to provide a level-playing field for Canadian steel manufacturers.”

In particular, they’d like to see the government provide incentives for the use of Canadian steel in the construction of the Champlain Bridge, which Infrastructure Minister Denis Lebel has hinted might be renamed the Maurice Richard Bridge as a tribute to the Montreal Canadiens hockey legend.

CME first raised the possibility in a letter to Lebel, then transportation minister, in October 2013.

“The federal government has not followed CME’s recommendation and has decided to go ahead with the construction of the Champlain bridge without any incentives for Canadian steel manufacturers,” they noted in their Monday press release.

“CME urges the federal government, provinces and municipalities to adopt a reciprocity policy that would allow a Canadian municipality or any other level of government to reserve the right to buy steel products from those companies located in countries that also allow products made in Canada to be purchased for their infrastructure projects.”

The Conservatives unveiled the design of the bridge last June, which Infrastructure Canada estimates will be finished in 2018 and require 30,000 workers.

Found in: Buy America

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