CRC legal challenge to go before Oregon appeals board

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

Published:

Updated: September 27, 2011, 7:50 PM

 

A group of Oregon petitioners attempting to derail the Columbia River Crossing with a legal challenge will make their case before the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals on Thursday.

The appeal specifically challenges an August decision by Metro to approve a Land Use Final Order, effectively giving its go-ahead to light rail and freeway improvements on the Oregon side of the Columbia River. The more than $3 billion project would build a new Interstate 5 bridge between Washington and Oregon, and extend light rail into Vancouver.

The petitioners argue that Oregon’s Land Use Final Order law was tailored in the 1990s for a specific light-rail proposal, and never meant to apply to a project as broad as the CRC.

Metro contends the law’s reach is much wider than that. Senior attorney Richard Benner, who will represent the Portland area regional government during the Thursday hearing, called its language “very, very broad” and said it doesn’t contain any such limitations.

The land use law has since been applied to other light-rail expansions in the Portland area. Benner noted past light-rail projects have dovetailed with work on nearby freeways.

“The history, the precedent of these projects is to have highway improvements with them,” Benner said. He dismissed the notion that the CRC needs to be classified as one or the other.

“You really shouldn’t be thinking of this as a light-rail project or a highway project,” he said. “It’s a transportation project that addresses a transportation problem.”

Opponents jointly listed in the appeal — Weber Coastal Bells, the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods, Plaid Pantries and Jantzen/Angel LLC — also cite neighborhood impacts they say haven’t been properly addressed. The original challenge was filed Aug. 25.

The Northwest Coalition of Neighborhoods, which represents a dozen neighborhoods in North and Northeast Portland, joined forces with the Portland-based Coalition for a Livable Future in its challenge, according to both organizations. Both take issue with the CRC planning process so far.

“Not all the alternatives were equally vetted when the I-5 replacement bridge was planned,” said George Bruender, co-chair of the neighborhood coalition’s land use and transportation committee. “The decision was made even before the so-called public input had all been received.”

Bruender also pointed to increased traffic and pollution impacts he feels the CRC will bring to many Portland neighborhoods. Among the most vocal has been Hayden Island, which is not represented by the coalition.

The Metro Council approved the Land Use Final Order during its Aug. 11 meeting. The 6-1 vote followed hours of often impassioned public testimony mostly opposed to the project — much of it from Hayden Island residents.

Metro has taken every step required to identify those impacts and look at ways to limit them, Benner said.

Bruender acknowledged that something needs to happen for the Northwest’s main transit artery to function more smoothly. But he’d like to see the CRC process take a few steps back and more thoroughly address those concerns, he said.

“We’re not opposed to solving the problem of how to get across the Columbia River,” Bruender said. “We just don’t see that this is the right project that’s actually going to do that.”

The hearing is set for 9 a.m. Thursday at 550 Capitol St. N.E. in Salem, Ore., with a final opinion due from the appeals board by Oct. 27. That decision can then be appealed directly to the Oregon Supreme Court.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541 or eric.florip@columbian.com.