Coordinators for the Bridge Replacement Project were impressed with the turnout at its community forum earlier this month, where interested community members were invited to learn more about the project and give input on the process.
Project Director Kevin Greenwood estimates that about 60 people attended the open-house style event on Dec. 10 — and about half of those attendees were from the other side of the river.
“I was very happy with the turnout,” he said, “It’s hard to really measure how much people care, but this (turnout at the event) was pretty obvious: People care.”
“I was impressed that the room filled up,” said Commissioner Brian Shortt during Greenwood’s report on the forum during the commission’s Dec. 18 meeting. “I just think it was a great door-opener for public input.”
Attendees were asked to fill out surveys or comment cards, or to write their questions and comments on giant notepads set up around the room.
“I think the way that we framed some of the questions helped bring people out to tell us what they really think,” Greenwood said.
“We will be using that information to help develop the various reports that are a regular part of the NEPA process,” he said, referring to a series of requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act that the port has to complete before it can start applying for permits and funding.
“These comments will kind of serve as a backdrop for those reports,” Greenwood said, “they will be developed with those considerations being made.”
At its current pace, the port anticipates getting a record of decision — a formal statement that the NEPA requirements have all been met — in late 2020. The new bridge isn’t expected to be operational until 2028.
Community members and stakeholders have repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with the length of the project and have urged the port to look for ways to speed up the process.
There is the potential to shave a couple of months off of the NEPA process, depending on what documents the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the project’s lead federal agency, decides they need to submit — but “it’s not going to shave off years,” Greenwood said.
“FHWA has been very supportive at looking at ways to speed up the NEPA process,” he said, but there are few avenues to do so.
“Where the public can help is really talking to elected officials about getting funding and permits for the subsequent phases,” he said, adding that “the whole region speaking with a singular voice” in support of the project speed up the process after NEPA is completed.
Public involvement is a major part of the NEPA requirements for a project of this magnitude, so Greenwood encourages the community to stay involved in the process going forward.
“In a way, the public comments are the most important part of the NEPA process because it demonstrates that there’s been transparency and ample public input throughout the process.”
The port’s contract with WSP Global, the engineering firm contracted to help finish the NEPA requirements, only includes the one community forum, and a public hearing in the first quarter of 2020 to review the final reports and documents with community members.
There is the possibility for the port to hold another community forum outside of the WSP contract, Greenwood said, but nothing has been scheduled.
While the port doesn’t plan to hold another formal community forum, Greenwood stressed that the public is still invited to participate in the rest of the NEPA process. The best way to stay involved going forward, he said, is to participate in the quarterly Environmental Impact Study (EIS) working group meetings. The group held its first meeting on Nov. 8 and will hold a second in early 2019. The survey from Monday’s forum has been put up on the project’s website, where it will stay through the end of January, Greenwood said.
On average, it takes five to eight minutes to complete, and includes questions about design proposals for the new bridge, the project’s purpose and need statement and the EIS process; and includes a free space to leave comments.
At the end of the NEPA process, all public comments will be compiled and released, he added, and will be part of the final reports released for the 2020 public hearing.
Greenwood added that he is always available to talk about the project with interested community members.
“People can call me anytime,” he said, “If their groups would like me to meet with them, to talk about the project, I am available…”
The survey and project updates are available at portofhoodriver.com/bridge/bridge-replacement-project. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Kevin Greenwood at 541-436-0797.