Ominously, though, all of those efforts will have to be rushed—if they can be completed at all—to be meaningfully reviewed by the governors’ independent review panel. Its chairperson, Thomas Warne, the former executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation, promises that the committee will look at “anything that is available.” But when asked about all the new local initiatives, his voice grows tight: “We have a timeline to meet.” He must file the final report to the governors by July 30.
Meantime, the Hayden Island Livability Project is taking no chances: the group has initiated what is, more or less, its own independent review of the Crossing.
Working with Willamette University College of Law’s Sustainability Law Clinic, the islanders convinced Oregon’s Environmental Justice Task Force (a watchdog body that Governor Kulongoski himself signed into being in 2007) to review the Crossing’s impacts on their community. On April 19, the task force sent the governor a letter describing “systemic problems” ranging from how the Crossing’s planners determined the island’s demographics (using 10-year-old census information) to the lack of citizen involvement in the decision to demolish the Safeway.
As Sustainability Law Clinic director and task force member Jonathan Ostar explains, the U.S. Environmental Proctection Agency (EPA) sets strict guidelines for how “environmental justice communities”—that is, low income or racially diverse neighborhoods—must be handled. “With big transportation projects, the involvement of low-income communities is often tokenized,” Ostar says. “They just want to check the box. The EPA requires that these communities have meaningful involvement—that they not only be heard, but that they be allowed to influence.”
Like others in the Hayden Island Livability Project, Erick Reddekopp has never played the part of activist before. A computer consultant, he moved to the island two years ago to be closer to his aging parents. “My father discovered the island during his last stint for the Postal Service delivering mail here,” Reddekopp says. “Over time, I’ve fallen in love with it, too.”
The Crossing’s scale overwhelmed people, he says. The islanders either thought the project was too big to ever happen or resigned themselves to not being able to affect it. But their outrage over losing their grocery store turned into a petition drive that, in turn, led their local elected officials to demand that the two governors “commit to meeting the needs of the Hayden Island Community.” Now, Reddekopp and his fellow islanders believe they may be turning the tide of the Columbia River Crossing.
“We’re just at the beginning,” he says. “Not all the work the Crossing’s staff has done is bad. But let’s step back and start working with the communities to find a Portland solution.”