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Federal lawsuit could block Lake Oswegos Foothills dock

A Lewis and Clark College advocacy group is claiming endangered species laws were violated

A federal lawsuit filed by an environmental group could block construction of the public dock planned for Foothills Park.

The Northwest Environmental Defense Center, a nonprofit advocacy group based at Lewis and Clark College, is suing two federal agencies that approved construction of the dock. The group claims both violated federal laws meant to protect endangered species when they made the decision.

The city of Lake Oswego is scheduled to build the concrete dock in Foothills Park sometime this fall.

In its planning stages, the dock stirred considerable controversy particularly on the east side of the Willamette River, where related changes in boating rules were expected to increase traffic.

During testimony, the Tryon Creek Watershed Council also questioned whether the new dock could harm endangered fish.

In a lawsuit filed Aug. 8, the Northwest Environmental Defense Center is echoing those concerns about fish.

The lawsuit claims the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers relied on outdated information to show the dock would not harm critical habitat for endangered species, relying on a biological opinion from 2004.

They allege an area around the dock was listed as critical habitat for four species the following year.

Neither the National Marine Fisheries Service nor the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could be reached for comment.

Impact on salmon

Daniel Rohlf, attorney for the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, said the critical habitat designation makes both agencies responsible for conducting a more thorough analysis.

'What we're saying is it is unlawful to allow construction for a facility without first going through the Endangered Species Act consultation process to assess whether building these facilities would destroy or adversely modify these critical habitats,' Rohlf said.

The lawsuit specifically concerns six species of threatened salmon and steelhead that are born in freshwater tributaries of the Columbia River, including Tryon Creek and the Willamette River. The fish migrate from here to the Pacific Ocean to live as adults, then return to the area to spawn and die.

Salmon require cool, clean water that flows at high speeds to help migration.

They also need clean gravel to spawn and rear young. Restoration efforts on Tryon Creek have recently brought juvenile steelhead, cutthroat trout and coho salmon back to the creek. Nearby habitat in the Willamette River is listed as critical to the recovery of chinook and steelhead.

The Northwest Environmental Defense Center charges that increased boat activity surrounding the dock and a lack of sewage facilities there would increase pollution and harm the endangered fish. They also say the dock itself would offer shelter to fish predators.

Lake Oswego is among cities that have invested money in salmon restoration projects, including funds that improve salmon passage through a culvert under Highway 43.

Mayor Judie Hammerstad, who was unaware of the lawsuit when reached Wednesday, said she thought any fish impacts caused by the dock had been carefully considered.

'The last study that was required to be done gave us the approval to go ahead with the information that it would not be harmful,' she said. 'Certainly if it is harmful to endangered species, we would modify it.'

The Northwest Environmental Defense Center is asking a federal judge to throw out the 2004 biological opinion that allowed the dock. Rohlf said the group would ask a federal judge to halt construction of Lake Oswego's dock if work on it begins without more analysis of fish impacts.