In a challenge to Northwest highway planners, the federal government has found inadequate study of air and water pollution that could come from a new Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finds that bridge planners did not adequately examine the potential for a bridge to induce sprawl, increase pollution and contaminate an aquifer that supplies Vancouver and Clark County's drinking water.
The critique is drawn from EPA's review of the Columbia River Crossing's 5,000-page environmental impact statement, and it extends to other areas as well. Among those are whether doubling the congested I-5 bridge from six to 12 lanes will promote suburban sprawl; whether the combination of air toxics, noise and other pollution will punish North Portland communities living close to the I-5; and whether massive pile-driving efforts will stir up toxic sediments, compromising federally protected migrating salmon.
The EPA makes clear in a cover letter to its 13-page account that it is "generally supportive" of replacing the I-5 bridge with new spans that include light rail. But its report is blunt in citing deficiencies in the study of how the I-5 bridge project would affect the region's traffic, growth, and quality of life.
To view a copy of the EPA's letter, see oregonlive.com/environment
None of the findings were a surprise, said Heather Gundersen, environmental manager for the CRC project.
"We have heard most of that from the EPA throughout our coordination process," Gundersen said. "It's something we're going to work through with them. It's something we're going to address point by point."
But the findings reinforced the objections of many local environmental groups, which have argued a new bridge would promote sprawl and undermine the region's efforts to curb global warming.
And the agency's critique underscored concern about the bridge's health effects on poor and racial minorities living nearby, and its impact on children living or attending school near the I-5 - subjects receiving less public attention.
"There was no indication (in the CRC environmental impact statement) of how these vulnerable populations might be impacted by air pollution, noise, diesel construction vehicles and increased traffic," the EPA wrote.
EPA's letter, dated July 1 and addressed to federal highway and mass transit officials managing the CRC project, surfaced Thursday as the bridge won conditional endorsement from a panel of 17 regional leaders. The panel, which controls spending of federal transportation money in the region, includes the mayors of Vancouver, Beaverton, Milwaukie, and Troutdale; three councilors of the Metro regional planning agency; Portland City Commissioner Sam Adams and Multnomah County Chairman Ted Wheeler.
As momentum on the new bridge picks up, it's unclear what effect EPA's assessments will have.
Tom Buchele, a Lewis & Clark law professor representing some critics of the project, said it would take years for the highway planners to address EPA's concerns. He called EPA's assessment "a pretty low grade."
"They can fix it," he said, "but there's a lot of new analysis EPA is asking for."
A key EPA concern centers on the Troutdale Sole Source Aquifer, which extends beneath the Columbia River and supplies 99 percent of Clark County's residents with drinking water. But bridge planners did not examine whether bridge pilings would intrude into water channels within the aquifer, bringing contaminated sections of the aquifer into contact with clean ones, the EPA found.
Air pollution and sprawl are also federal worries.
The CRC's analysis "focuses on emissions trends that are not influenced by the project," EPA writes, and ignore wind, weather and proximity of people to bridge emissions. Those projections also assume a future that features cleaner-burning cars.
The CRC staff had assumed a 12-lane toll bridge would not promote housing or job growth in the I-5 corridor, The Oregonian has reported. In its environmental impact statement, the CRC had concluded land use controls now in place could keep sprawl -and side effects such pollution - in check.
The EPA disagrees.
"Roadway expansion of this magnitude, even with tolls and transit, may stimulate travel demand for use of privately owned vehicles and may contribute to pressures for dispersed development," the letter says, referring to sprawl.
The EPA raises concern that construction noise and vibration could kill or hurt fish if it's too loud. Endangered Steller Sea Lions and 13 species of endangered or threatened fish are found in the Columbia River. The National Marine Fisheries Service, which has responsibility for protecting such animals, did not meet a July 1 deadline to comment on CRC's assessment of the bridge's impact on fish.
Fisheries Service officials on Thursday said they will have their comments will be finished in a few weeks.
Dylan Rivera: 503-221-8532; firstname.lastname@example.org For environment news, go to: oregonlive.com/environment
Thursday, July 10, 2008
EPA report on the CRC
From the Oregonian - apparently the Feds (EPA) disagree with the whole charades that the CRC committee has been pulling with their so-called assessment of the bridge replacement project. Surprise, surprise, objective outside assessment from people with no bias have raised the issue of increased urban sprawl, as well as environmental issues not even thought of by anyone to date: