At the time, the deer were on the endangered species list. Since introducing them to the Ridgefield refuge, the herd has grown to 100-plus, and the deer have been downgraded from endangered to threatened.
When the environmental impact study was done in 2008, the deer weren’t in Ridgefield. The Federal Highway Administration and Federal Rail Administration, both of which have contributed funds to the project, notified the Washington State Department of Transportation, which is overseeing the project, that the port must conduct an updated environmental study on the impact on the deer.
“I share their frustration,” Lapp said. “It comes with the territory of being immediately adjacent to a national wildlife refuge. That is one of our purposes, to conserve and support the recovery of threatened and enlisted species under the Endangered Species Act.”
Lapp said he thinks the impacts of the project on the deer will be “nonsignificant or very light.”
“I don’t expect our project is going to impact the population of deer, but we have to demonstrate that,” Grening said.
The study should take another three to four months and cost somewhere between $30,000 and $35,000, according to Grening.
“It’s not necessarily a big deal, but it takes time and it takes money,” he said.
Making the issue a little more complicated is that the deer have spread out, both in the refuge and outside of it, Lapp said. They were introduced to sanctuary parts of the refuge, where guests couldn’t see them. Now, the deer roam around, and some have left the refuge altogether. Lapp estimates 90 to 95 percent of the deer still live at the refuge, which refuge staffers can keep track of since deer that were placed there in 2013 and 2014 are ear tagged. However, some of those deer now live near La Center Bottoms or the Morgan property north of the refuge, and others have swam the Columbia River to Sauvie Island.
“Because they’re off the wildlife refuge, projects in Ridgefield could impact the deer population,” Grening said.
Another issue that’s delayed the project that still has to be dealt with is obtaining the “air rights” from BNSF Railway to construct the overpass over BNSF tracks. Grening said it was something that wasn’t discussed much in the planning of the project and then popped up.
“We had to acquire other pieces of right of way,” Grening said. “We probably could’ve done that simultaneously with these other pieces. That would’ve been ideal.”
Since the overpass will allow drivers to get to the waterfront by going over the tracks, instead of crossing them, Grening said he thought the project would be considered a relocation for the path across the tracks.
He said once the environmental study is done, acquiring the air rights is the only other step he’s aware of before the project can go out to bid.
“We’ll get through it,” Grening said.