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Green or not?

Environmental impacts are part of review for potential streetcar project
by: FiILE PHOTO A Street car like  this is proposed to run between Portland and Lake Oswego to help with traffic congestion, but there remains major concerns about the enviromental consequences of the project.

The proposed streetcar line from Portland to Lake Oswego has been hailed as a boon for air quality - a long-term fix for not only traffic congestion, but also to the pressure an expanding population can put on the environment.

But the project might not be so environmentally friendly after all.

At a recent county hearing, Lake Oswego City Councilor Mary Olson said she hopes environmental consequences will be a major focus as analysis of the transit project continues.

'The environmental impact of this project is astounding,' Olson said. 'Even if the environmental impacts were mitigated, I think the cost of that mitigation would be prohibitive.'

The Audubon Society of Portland has also challenged documents related to the streetcar plan: The Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which precedes a Final Environmental Impact Statement, and a steering committee's recommendation of the streetcar as the best transit option for the traffic corridor between Lake Oswego and Portland. The project would run along an existing rail right-of-way near the Willamette River.

'We believe that the (locally preferred alternative) and DEIS do an inadequate job of assessing and addressing natural resource impacts,' wrote Bob Sallinger, conservation director for the Audubon Society of Portland, in a letter to the Lake Oswego City Council this past spring.

'In order for this project to be considered truly sustainable, it is critical that Lake Oswego work with Portland, Metro as well as state and federal natural resource agencies to ensure that natural resource impacts are avoided and minimized to the degree feasible and fully mitigated when impacts cannot be avoided.'

The transit project could undermine resources invested in recent years in restoring the lower Willamette River, including the stretch north of Lake Owego, now considered 'some of the last relatively healthy intact riparian habitat along the Willamette before the river reaches its most degraded stretch in the central city,' according to the letter.

A proposed bridge over Tryon Creek associated with the streetcar project could also pose a setback for restoration work there.

A planned incursion into Powers Marine Park, where large wood installations provide refuge for threatened fish species just south of the Sellwood Bridge, 'would severely compromise the ecological integrity of one of the highest value wildlife corridors' in the area, Sallinger wrote.

Also, according to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement:

The overall study area includes four wetlands, 23 waterways, including at least two fish-supporting creeks, and a combination of developed land along with coniferous, deciduous forest.

At least in its initial form, the proposed streetcar design, which crosses into the drip line of rare native Oregon white oaks in Willamette Park, could damage those trees.

A variety of wildlife species likely live or forage in the area. Some - such as the Western painted turtle, peregrine falcon, bald eagle, band-tailed pigeon and olive-sided flycatcher - are considered threatened, endangered or sensitive by government standards.

On the other hand, even the 'no build' alternative researched for the DEIS but not chosen as the preferred option could have environmental impacts.

More cars on the road in the future would likely mean more pollution contaminating storm runoff that flows into creeks and streams, and that would have consequences for aquatic species, according to the draft impact statement.

Project planners are now working on 'pre-preliminary engineering work' associated with the streetcar line's ongoing study.

Eventually, the Metro Council will decide whether to proceed with the project's next phase.