The Port of Hood River held its second bi-state work session meeting June 19 where details were provided on what has been done since the last work session in January, and what next steps in the lengthy process of replacing the Hood River-White Salmon bridge will be.
The session began with introductions of parties present — mainly elected officials, which included Washington State Senator Curtis King, Bingen Mayor Betty Barnes, and White Salmon Mayor Dave Poucher. This was followed by a short presentation from the Bridge Project Director Kevin Greenwood on the history of the bridge and prior replacement efforts and studies conducted.
The Hood River-White Salmon Bridge, originally named the Waucoma Interstate Bridge, was built in 1924 and is the second oldest bridge connecting the states of Oregon and Washington. It was built by the Oregon-Washington Bridge Company and later bought by the Port of Hood River in 1950 for $800,000, which is roughly $8.5 million by today's value.
The first efforts made to replace the bridge began on the Washington side of the river in 2000 through an earmark from Washington State 4th District Representative Doc Hastings.
A two-tier feasibility study was conducted by the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council (SWRTC) primarily to determine where a new bridge could or would be placed. The Port of Hood River supported this effort.
The study was funded through a contract that gave SWRTC federally earmarked money for these types of studies. The study looked at a few different corridors: one to the east that would connect Bingen Point to Koberg State Park, one to the west that would connect the I-84 interchange to SR 14 just west of the White Salmon Fish Hatchery.
The study ultimately concluded that building the new bridge just slightly west of the current one was the most financially feasible with the least amount of impact on the surrounding environments. The study also concluded that there were short-term improvement options that could be done while further long-term options were explored.
“One of the things these communities should be very proud of is that there has already been a significant amount of work done to date. Not to downplay the Final Environmental Impact Study (FEIS) component, but the fact that these communities have completed a draft EIS, a Type, Size and Location (TS&L) study and feasibility studies has really pushed this project much further ahead than other communities facing similar projects,” said Greenwood.
A financial feasibility study was also conducted by SWRTC that concluded at the time that tolls would cover 35% of the total replacement cost. A similar study will be done again through this FEIS process to determine where the remainder of the funding can and will come from.
The draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) process began in 2003 with an extensive bi-state effort behind it. This process was also funded by the federally earmarked contract with SWRTC. During this process, there were multiple meetings, interviews and open houses with stakeholders and the public to address any potential issues they may have with the location of the bridge. There were no significant controversial issues that came up at that time.
In 2008 Rep. Hastings, obtained the earmark for the draft environmental impact study (DEIS), the TS&L and feasibility studies. The TS&L identified the scope of work for the FEIS, the funding for which came from the 2017 Oregon Transportation Plan. Hastings also fostered a Memo of Understanding (MOU) between the Washington and Oregon sides of the bridge. The MOU requires all entities impacted by the bridge replacement to work collectively to secure the remainder of the funding for the FEIS.
Now it is Oregon’s turn to do some studies thanks in part to both the previous work done and the passage of Oregon House Bills 2750 and 2017 in 2017.
Oregon House Bill 2750 allows for modifications to the Port of Hood Rivers statutory authorities to consider Public-Private Partnerships (P3s) as a funding opportunity for Bridge replacement IF the port adopted administrative rules substantially similar to those of the Oregon Department of Transportation.
While House Bill 2017 allowed for the Oregon Transportation package to provide $5 million in state support for completing required pre-construction environmental reviews, preliminary engineering, and financial analysis,” said Greenwood.
Angela Findley is the Senior Project Manager for WSP Engineering. Findley gave a presentation at this work session explaining a bit about WSP as a business, but mainly she gave a lesson on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which is the umbrella that the FEIS process falls under as a class of action.
WSP Engineering is a professional services firm headquartered in Montreal, Canada and was founded in 1959. The firm came highly recommended to the Port of Hood River by the SWRTC as well as both the Oregon and Washington Departments of Transportation. A notable bridge-based project WSP has had a hand in was the replacement of Wood-row Wilson Bridge that connects Maryland and Virginia.
Findley described NEPA (enacted by Congress in 1969) as a procedural law, meaning it sets a process or framework for environmental planning and decision making by federal agencies acting as trustees for the environment that a project will be in.
It also gives direction to those agencies when it comes to projects and permits. NEPA requires agencies to follow a systematic process through an interdisciplinary approach.
Depending on the type of project being proposed, some aspects of the process can move forward as the NEPA process progresses while others will need to wait for that process to conclude. Regarding bridge replacement, the latter is more likely.
NEPA is known as an “umbrella regulation,” meaning not only does it have its own requirements that need to be fulfilled when it comes to projects but underneath there are many other requirements and laws that agencies need to comply with. The bridge project will be impacted by some but not all these other laws it needs to comply with, making it understandable why this is a 2-3-year process.
As mentioned before the EIS is a, in NEPA jargon, Class of Action that forms a Record of Documentation (ROD) for the project in the NEPA process. An EIS is one of three classes of action and is the most robust.
“This class of action is usually undertaken when the lead federal agency on a project anticipates significant impacts to the environment or if they expect public controversy around the project. The EIS is the best way to fully disclose the analysis requiring robust public involvement in the process,” said Findley.
The EIS process itself is a twelve-step process with public involvement all the way through. Beginning with a project initiation letter from an agency, in this case, the Port of Hood River, to a lead federal agency, requesting help through the NEPA compliance process. The final step is the completion of the FEIS.
Following Findley’s presentation, there was a question and answer period.
Senator King asked at what point during this process would the port determine what type of bridge will be built, citing that the type of bridge could determine the environmental impact (i.e. bridge supports in the river).
“We talk about design all through the NEPA process, but by the time that process is completed only about twenty percent of that design is approved. Much of that design process comes after the NEPA process is concluded but uses information from NEPA as part of the decision-making process,” said Findley.
Bingen Mayor Betty Barnes asked if the FEIS will include the impacts of taking down the current bridge, which according to Findley is part of the discussions with the participating environmental agencies involved in the process.
White Salmon Mayor Dave Poucher asked if the process could be expedited if it was cited as disaster prevention. Poucher mentions a provision through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that allows for communities to take preventative actions for potential disasters.
“That’s a worthwhile discussion to have with the federal agencies, to see how we can, minus a seismic event or a barge accident, expedite the process,” said Findley.
The work session closed with a preview of the next steps from Greenwood, which began by addressing the bi-state advisory committee controversy. The name for the committee has been changed to the Bridge Replacement Advisory Committee (BRAC) as opposed to the Bridge Replacement Advisory Group (BRAG). Again, all the Washington Entities have been invited to participate in this group, including the cities of White Salmon and Bingen, the Port of Klickitat, and Klickitat County. The BRAC hopes to meet at some point in July to kick off the next piece of the bridge replacement process.