Breaking: Neighbors, Environmentalists Bring Lawsuit Against Costly, Risky CRC Mega-Project

Evan Manvel

Excerpts from the press release:

Today the Coalition for a Livable Future, Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods, and Northwest Environmental Defense Center are filing litigation challenging the Columbia River Crossing Mega-Project.

The organizations are joining together to sue the federal agencies [FHWA and FTA] responsible for the CRC mega-project because they have not followed the environmental laws designed to ensure that development is safe for people and the environment. Their legal claims are based on concerns that the most expensive public works project in the region’s history has failed to consider even a basic analysis of key environmental issues.

“This project would harm our neighborhoods. It would significantly increase air pollution, funnel traffic into North and Northeast Portland...” - Steve Cole, Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods

The claims are under the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires the government to study the health and environmental impacts of major projects, and the Endangered Species Act, which requires the government to ensure that massive projects in the river don’t destroy endangered salmon....

Issues in the case include the CRC’s failure to include a reasonable range of alternatives, instead creating a false choice between two extremes. The litigation also discusses the highway department’s failure to properly analyze air pollution, disclose the health impacts, and disclose the impact of additional traffic lanes on air and water resources, ecosystems and greenhouse gas emissions.

... The Columbia River has historically had the largest salmon run in the continental United States. The Endangered Species Act claims result from CRC’s failure to adequately protect endangered salmon and other species in the river.

More updates as the news stories hit. The lawsuit was long expected, and NEPA and ESA litigation is notoriously complex. Kudos to the groups for filing the lawsuit.

Disclaimer: I've done some paid work on the CRC issue for the Coalition for a Livable Future. I speak only for myself. That said, feel free to support the groups filing the lawsuit. Here's CLF, here's NECN, and here's NEDC.

UPDATE: Sarah Mirk at the Portland Mercury has a short blog post about the lawsuit, noting: "estimates there won't be any decision on it for at least a year."

UPDATE #2: Reporter Eric Florip from The Columbian tweets: "Vancouver's Thompson Metal Fab files legal challenge against planning process, cites bridge height. More to come." My understanding is the multiple suits is because this week is the deadline for lawsuits under NEPA.

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    And for those who couldn't get enough of reading long legal writings last week, here's the complaint itself in PDF form. It's long.

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    This is terrific news. The debate, including by critics like Evan who focuses on the "costly, risky" meme, has been much too financial. The Environmental Impact Statement focused only on the immediate bridgehead area, which was also true of a pilot Health Impact Assessment that some researchers for Multnomah County Public Health did (mainly as a demonstration of HIAs that was deliberately parallel, it should be said -- it was good work within its constraints).

    Behind this story is a sad tale of abject failure by the City and Metro to insist that the CRC planning process be coordinated with long term city and Metro planning, which could stand to be better coordinated with one another, and failure to look at CRC in a holistic regional transportation planning process that includes health and ecology as well as traffic engineering.

    Meanwhile TriMet is going to waste $800,000 this year on CRC planning while cutting services.

    Time for Portland to stop the self-congratulation on planning.

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