Two lawsuits target CRC planning process

Spokeswoman said litigation was expected




A pair of lawsuits filed Monday took aim at the Columbia River Crossing, challenging the project’s planning process as inadequate and incomplete.

One of the suits, filed by Vancouver’s Thompson Metal Fab Inc., argues current CRC plans would build a new Interstate 5 bridge too low to accommodate known economic needs. The CRC has crafted a fixed bridge design with 95 feet of vertical clearance above the Columbia River — despite warnings from the U.S. Coast Guard that marine traffic and commerce needs more space. Thompson, which specializes in custom projects such as oil rigs and missile launchers at its yard upstream from the bridge, has said it needs at least 125 feet of clearance. The current I-5 drawbridge, when lifted, allows for as much as 179 feet.

The company characterized itself as a reluctant plaintiff, saying it made an unsuccessful good-faith effort to resolve the issue before the deadline for legal challenges arrived this week.

“I’m very disappointed, but we need to file now to protect our interests,” Thompson President John Rudi said in a released statement. “The clock simply ran out.”

The other lawsuit came from three Portland nonprofit groups, citing issues with the project’s environmental planning process.

The challenge was expected; two of the groups also filed a suit against an Oregon land-use order related to the CRC last year. The Coalition for a Livable Future, Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods, and Northwest Environmental Defense Center filed the suit Monday.

The groups said they believe the $3.5 billion CRC, as the largest public works project in the area’s history, has failed to follow environmental laws ensuring the highway, light rail and bridge plans will be safe for humans and the environment.

The Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration are named as defendants. Thompson’s suit named those two agencies and the federal Department of Transportation as defendants. The neighborhood groups are represented by the Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center at Lewis and Clark Law School.

“This project would harm our neighborhoods,” said Steve Cole of the Northeast (Portland) Coalition of Neighborhoods in the release. “It would significantly increase air pollution, funnel traffic into North and Northeast Portland, and lead to poorly planned sprawl. Our community needs smart transportation options so we don’t have to drive so much and travel so far.”

The nonprofits’ lawsuit takes to task the CRC’s Environmental Impact Statement, completed to pass muster with the National Environmental Policy Act. The CRC finished the document at the end of 2011 and received a federal Record of Decision.

The groups said the 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. They also repeatedly designed a public process that failed to include real public input.”

CRC spokeswoman Mandy Putney said that the project staff was not surprised to see legal action, and added that both Oregon and Washington have good track records for implementing projects through the NEPA process.

“Large public works projects like this often get litigated; we were expecting it,” Putney said. “It’s part of the process, and we feel very confident in the environmental review process that has been done over the last seven years.”