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River plan still hits opposition

By Jim Redden
The Portland Tribune

Industries say they’d rather pay money than undergo new city reviews. River-related business owners and environmentalists are still far apart on key elements of a plan to restore the Portland Harbor that is heading back to the City Council.

The most contentious issue is the creation of a new city review process for business projects within the so-called North Reach of the Willamette River. This process — which would apply to such things as building expansions or adding docks or piers — is so unpopular with business owners that they are willing to pay the city a fee to get out of it, even though the fee might cost them more than complying with the review on some projects.

“We already have to comply with federal and state environmental requirements. New city requirements will make it harder to stay economically competitive,” says T. Alan Sprott, vice president of Vigor Industrial and chair of the Working Waterfront Coalition, which represents seven other major businesses in the harbor and the Port of Portland.

Sprott says that allowing businesses to pay a fee equal to 1.5 percent of project costs to avoid the review process will guarantee the city can raise money to restore the harbor. Otherwise, Sprott says, businesses might decide against new projects and the city won’t make any environmental progress.

But Bob Sallinger, conservation director for the Audubon Society of Portland, calls the coalition’s proposal “a joke.” He says existing federal and state requirements are not strong enough, and he believes city leadership is necessary to reverse decades of environmental degradation in the harbor.

“It is also a slap in the face to the people who live in Portland. It amounts to industry and the Port of Portland saying that the people of Portland should not have a voice over what happens in our river,” Sallinger says.

The fate of the River Plan is unclear at this point. Mayor Sam Adams wants the council to approve the plan when it comes up for a hearing on Thursday, April 1. But there must also be at least one more hearing before everything can be approved, which has not yet been scheduled. And Adams says he does not want the plan to take effect until the end of the year, after the council has voted on yet-to-be written provisions intended to address the still unresolved issues.

“These will be factually, scientifically and fiscally based decisions, and the council will vote on all of them in an open, transparent process,” Adams says.

Commissioner Amanda Fritz opposes the Working Waterfront Coalition’s so-called “fee in lieu” proposal. In an e-mail to the Portland Tribune, Fritz says there are already standards in the proposed plan that exempt some projects from the the River Review process.

“If these standards are met, River Review will not be required,” Fritz wrote, referring to such things as ownership changes, some maintenance work and projects that do not increase the footprint of existing structures.

On the other hand, Commissioner Dan Saltzman says he is open minded about the industry proposal. But Saltzman adds there may need to be some kind of agreed-upon threshold above which the River River process is required.

Commissioner Randy Leonard has yet to make up his mind about the industry proposal. Commissioner Nick Fish could not be reach for comment.

Years in the making

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