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Lake Oswego river dock caught in environmental squeeze

Plan for Foothills Park project on hold as feds revoke city permit

A federal agency revoked Lake Oswego's permit for a boat dock on the Willamette River Monday, calling for a fresh look at the dock's potential impacts to endangered species.

The suspension of the permit for the city's public dock in Foothills Park comes one month after a related lawsuit was filed by the Northwest Environmental Defense Center.

The nonprofit advocacy group is based at Lewis and Clark College. It sued both the National Marine Fisheries Service and the United States Army Corp of Engineers Aug. 8 for their roles in approving the dock, claiming both violated federal laws meant to protect endangered species.

In the lawsuit, the Northwest Environmental Defense Center said the federal agencies failed to consider the dock's impacts to fish habitat before approving the dock. Both are charged with using a biological opinion from 2004 to assess those impacts, an opinion crafted one year before the proposed dock area was listed as critical habitat for four fish species.

The city of Lake Oswego is scheduled to install the dock at the end of October. It is currently being constructed in another location.

Mayor Judie Hammerstad said Wednesday the city is not alarmed by the suspension. She said she has been in touch with federal officials about the need for more analysis of the dock's potential impacts on fish habitat.

'They have asked us to stop work for the time being but we weren't really doing any work,' she said. 'The odds are it will be OK and we'll be able to go ahead.'

She said the National Marine Fisheries Service is currently updating its analysis of the dock's impact on fish. That analysis is expected to conclude in early October, said Hammerstad, before the dock's installation was to take place.

But federal officials must first decide that work on the dock should proceed.

Once the analysis concludes, the Army Corp of Engineers could halt the dock project permanently. It could also reinstate the permit or modify criteria for the dock.

Critics of the project want the dock stopped.

They say the dock could shelter predators of endangered fish and that increased boat activity and a lack of sewage facilities would add harmful pollution to an area critical to the recovery of endangered fish.

Tom Buchele, an attorney with the plaintiffs' law firm, said the Northwest Environmental Defense Center planned an injunction to stop construction on the dock if work went ahead without more analysis of fish impacts.

The idea prompted talks with the Department of Justice, which led to the decision to suspend the dock's permit.

Buchele said the environmental group ultimately wants the dock project canceled but was unsure what outcome more study might bring.

'Clearly there's some additional analysis that has to be done here and I think it's difficult to speculate what the outcome of that analysis would be,' he said. 'Legally, could they fix this somehow? Maybe ... Ideally we would like to see the dock not happen.'