July 9th, 2008 5:33 pm | by NIGEL JAQUISS News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics, Environment, Multnomah County

EPA Expresses Concerns About $4.2 Billion Bridge

Tags: bicycling

The federal Environmental Protection Agency wants a lot more information about the impacts of a proposed $4.2 billion bridge on Interstate 5 between Oregon and Washington.

Read the agency's comments, submitted July 1 here.

Although the Oregonian editorial board rhapsodized on Tuesday about the prospects of the "World's Greenest Bridge," the agency entrusted with protecting the nation's environment seems less enamored.

The EPA criticized the Columbia River Crossing Project"'s Draft Environmental Impact Statement for being insufficiently responsive to the project's impacts on air quality, environmental justice, groundwater and wildlife.

But the most sweeping EPA comments mirror critics' concerns about the bridge's possible impact on development patterns and global warming.

"Replacement Crossing Alternatives propose to double the number of highway lanes from six to twelve. EPA is concerned that roadway expansion of this magnitude, even with tolls and transit may stimulate travel demand for use of privately owned vehicles (POVs), and may contribute to pressures for dispersed development," the EPA response says. "Stimulated travel, dispersed development and, loss of natural resource lands may also be at odds with the Oregon and Washington Governors' goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

The author of the comments, Christine Reichgott of the EPA's regional office in Seattle, says the rating that EPA assigned to the project "EC-2, Environmental Concerns, Insufficient Information," is a mid-range grade, somewhere between a clean bill of health and a red alert.

"We're looking for more information about mitigation of environmental impacts," Reichgott told Wwire.

CRC project spokeswoman Carley Francis says project planners will address the EPA's concerns.

"We've been working with the EPA for a couple of years already," Francis says. "There was nothing in their comments that we did not anticipate and we will work to prepare answers for their concerns over the coming months."

Tom Buchele, director of the Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center at Lewis & Clark Law School, regularly sifts through Environmental Impact Statements and EPA responses to them.

"This one is not boilerplate at all," says Buchele, who represents a group of CRC critics, including the Coalition for a Livable Future and other groups critical of the bridge called SmarterBridge. "What they [the BPA] are asking for here is substantially new analysis."

Buchele says he has asked the EPA whether the information it's requesting will be presented by project sponsors in a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement or only in the scheduled Final Environmental Impact Statement.

"The public ought to have the opportunity to look at that information and comment on it," Buchele says. "Making them wait for an FEIS [Final Environmental Impact Statement] would be too late."

(Meantime, here'sthe CRC scene today at City Hall.)
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