The Port of Hood River is in the early stages of a 30-month Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) project, an extremely complex undertaking that is a key prerequisite for the Hood River – White Salmon Bridge replacement, and has achieved some important milestones.
Nearly a quarter of the way through FEIS activities, the Port is on track to complete requirements set forth by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in late 2020 for a Record of Decision (ROD) that will determine next steps, ideally allowing the project to proceed with federal funding and permit applications.
NEPA, the federal law signed by President Nixon in 1970, requires that government actions (primarily capital projects) thoroughly evaluate projects or activities expected to have significant environmental impacts and/or require federal funding.
As a result of the complex nature of the NEPA process, the Port has secured the services of WSP USA to perform environmental engineering services and develop the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and ROD. WSP USA is working closely with the Port’s Bridge Replacement Project Director, Kevin Greenwood.
Key recent NEPA progress:
• Oregon Dept. of Transportation has been added as co-lead agency, joining the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in the NEPA process. This development opens up access to more resources and should raise the project’s level of importance at the state level, particularly since FHWA delegates much of the technical reviews to the state.
• The Port, FHWA and ODOT re-evaluated the Draft EIS (DEIS), published in 2001, and determined most of the study is still valid and relevant, but that a Supplemental DEIS should be published. The supplement will review critical habitat (a new protected resource since the original DEIS), investigate archeological resources, plus address recent developments in resources and policies that guide environmental impacts. The Supplemental DEIS should streamline the process for the FEIS.
• A few changes to project scope have occurred, the biggest of which is an adjustment to the Navigation Impact Report scope. This report is necessary to obtain a preliminary navigational clearance determination from U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), which will provide a level of certainty to navigational authorization for the project.
• The Port commissioned a Traffic and Revenue (T&R) “sketch-level analysis” for future (2045) bridge conditions to support the FEIS. There are two purposes for these types of traffic studies: determining design criteria and developing a financing package to fund the bridge. The current report, produced by Stantec Corp. of New York, NY, was intended only to give the Commission and the public an opportunity to see the types of assumptions for financing a $300-million bridge. A more detailed “investment grade” T&R study is expensive or time-sensitive; therefore it likely won’t occur until after the NEPA process.
• The bi-state EIS Working Group (EISWG) committee has met three times, with the third occuring on May 23rd at the Port of Hood River. The Working Group oversees contractor WSP USA’s progress. Approximately 10 scheduled quarterly meetings will take place over the FEIS project duration. The EISWG is made up primarily of elected officials from local communities and intended to provide a feedback loop from those communities back to the project team. NEPA requires technical reports on almost two dozen disciplines and the EISWG helps keep local public officials informed on findings.
• Numerous public involvement events have occurred, including an open house in December, attended by more than 40 people, plus February public meetings in Hood River and White Salmon. Additionally, a 15-question public survey on the Bridge Replacement Project shared by media outlets in the Gorge drew over 700 responses. (Survey Results at bit.ly/HRBridgeSurvey). More public outreach events are planned throughout the project.
Each task and milestone accomplished m oves the project closer to a Record of Decision at the end of 2020. After the NEPA process, the next phase is a $20 million ask for engineering, governance-related studies, and more detailed financial analysis. The current bridge construction cost estimate is $277 million, for a planning level cost estimate of $300 million in 2021 dollars. WSP USA has produced a permit plan road map as to the level of design needed, approximate costs for each permit, and duration of each permit process.
It’s unclear from where funds for design, permits, studies and construction will come. By June 2019, the Port Bridge Repair and Replacement Fund will have accumulated close to $2.5 million. The Port is actively lobbying in Salem, Olympia and Washington DC to educate, inform and prepare for future phases of the bridge and the near-completion of NEPA will help significantly in those efforts. It’s estimated the entire bridge replacement project could take approximately 10 years.
The timeline above estimates and summarizes steps and actions for Environmental Impact studies for potential replacement of the Hood River – White Salmon Bridge.