The federal Environmental Protection Agency and Department of the Interior have provided input on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Lake Oswego to Portland Transit Project. Both expressed reservations about the streetcar alternative because of the environmental damage it would cause. Both agencies shared many of the same concerns expressed by LO Stewards in our own DEIS comments regarding the significant environmental damage of the streetcar option.
The EPA expressed concerns about the streetcars damaging impacts, particularly to aquatic resources and indicated that at this point, they view the Enhanced Bus Alternative as the 'Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative.' However, they indicated that if the project partners committed to 'compensatory mitigation' for the streetcar option, then they would likely approve the streetcar project.
The Department of the Interior indicated that the streetcar option resulted in environmental damage to wetlands, vegetation, wildlife, fisheries and threatened/endangered species while the bus options did not. However, they also indicated that if significant 'compensatory mitigation' was employed, then the streetcar option could be pursued.
So, what is 'compensatory mitigation?' It's a federal government term for making a trade when water resources (wetlands, streams and other aquatic resources) are damaged by development. Essentially, environmental damage can be done provided there are efforts to make up for it. It's environmental penance and can take many forms, but the one that gets our attention is 'preservation.'
The 'preservation' approach to 'compensatory mitigation' sounds an awful lot like the 'sensitive lands' program: Permanent recorded restrictions on property, an inventory of 'protected' locations, significant limitations on use of the property. The bottom line is that the properties of others, related only by the fact of being in the same watershed, are restricted from use (with no compensation for or consent from the property owner) so that development can occur elsewhere. It's a trade! And, in fact, city staff has referred to the 'sensitive lands' program as a 'trade' - more upland tree/drainage regulation for less water regulation. The city of Lake Oswego is planning to add more properties to the 'sensitive lands' inventory later this year, just in time for the streetcar/Foothills projects that will result in significant damage to the Willamette riverfront.
No matter how much 'compensatory mitigation' is employed, including adding more backyards to the 'sensitive lands' inventory, the Willamette riverfront area will never be the same if a streetcar is coming through it every 7 to 12 minutes. The project partners say restoration and enhancement projects will make up for the construction damage. But the streetcar is a permanent intrusion into the Willamette riverfront corridor. That area will be forever changed and certainly will never be improved as long as a streetcar is running through it. Our true 'sensitive lands' are along the riverfront - not in the already developed private backyards of Lake Oswego citizens.
So, whether it's called a 'trade,' 'off-site mitigation,' 'compensatory mitigation' or 'sensitive lands,' we say private residential properties are off limits for others' environmental penance. And, we object to the unnecessary destruction of the riverfront when buses offer an equally efficient but more environmentally sensitive alternative to transit in this corridor. While the Feds may let the city and developers use 'compensatory mitigation,' we don't think it's consistent with the claims this community makes about its environmental stewardship.
For more information, please visit our new and improved website at www.lostewards.org/.
Bob Thompson, Lake Oswego, is a member of LO Stewards PAC.