Port connects with tribes on bridge project outreach

The Port of Hood River made efforts this last month to include the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission (CRIFC) and representatives from the Washington side of the river in the bridge replacement process.

The most significant step was a $25,000, contract approved during the port commission’s Aug. 21 meeting, with Akana Engineering to help coordinate with CRIFC and its four member tribes: Nez Perce Tribe, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs reservation, and Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Indian Nation.

Under this contract, Akana, a Native American-owned professional services firm, will advise on tribal outreach and facilitate contact with key tribal representatives. Though the company has 10 offices nationwide, its headquarters are in Portland.

“Akana is a unique company,” said Project Director Kevin Greenwood, calling the contract “advantageous.”

The port has been in contact with CRIFC since the beginning of the year to build a relationship with the tribes and encourage CRIFC to be part of the Bi-State Bridge Replacement Committee (BRAC), which would include them in political and policy decisions regarding the project.

BRAC is part of the port’s efforts to engage in community outreach, a requirement by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for this type of project. It will theoretically include members from the CRIFC; Hood River and Klickitat counties; the Cities of Hood River, White Salmon and Bingen; the Ports of Hood River and Klickitat; ODOT’s Area Commission of Transportation; and the Columbia River Gorge Commission.

During a recent CRIFC meeting in Warm Springs, the port received feedback from tribal representatives and decided to contact each of the tribes individually to talk about if and how they would like to be represented on BRAC — and that is where Akana comes in.

“What we’re trying to figure out now is who from these tribes wants to participate and how to do that in a sensitive manner,” Greenwood said. He said that he is confident in Akana’s ability “to help us find the right person from each of the tribes.”

The funds for the Akana contract will come out of a $5 million grant agreement with ODOT in 2017 to finish the Final Environmental Impact Study (FEIS): A document required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that identifies all agencies involved, evaluates the impacts and benefits of the project and explores project alternatives.

As of July 31, just over $3.8 million in contracts had been approved — the biggest of which was a $3 million contract with WSP Global Engineering.

WSP held its kick-off meeting with the port earlier this month and determined the first orders of business to be identifying the lead federal agency and developing a public information plan.

The next significant meeting will be with the Oregon division of the Federal Highways Association (FHWA) in mid-September “to basically arm-wrestle them into being the lead agency for this project,” Greenwood said, since the Washington division served as lead agency in earlier efforts. Since most of the funding now comes from the state of Oregon, the Oregon division would take the lead going forward.

To further engage stakeholders on the other side of the river, Greenwood, Commissioners Hoby Streich and Brian Shortt, Port Executive Director Michael McElwee and WSP Project Manager Angela Findley, attended an Aug. 16 meeting with Washington Senator Curtis King and representatives from the Northshore Four — a coalition made of Klickitat County, the Port of Klickitat and the Cities of White Salmon and Bingen — to consider Washington’s role in the project.

At this meeting, the Washington representatives are seeking funding on their side of the river for at least some portion of the bridge project, Greenwood said, and requested the chance to provide input on any significant changes with the FEIS.

Another meeting with Washington representatives will be held in September.

The port is currently compiling a list of potential stakeholders for Anne Pressentin, WSP’s designated public outreach coordinator to interview in September, with the intent of hearing from as diverse a group as possible.

BRAC will hopefully be assembled and ready to meet in late September, McElwee said.

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