The Audubon Society of Portland and OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon want to make sure the Oregon Department of Transportation doesn’t short-change the environment as they plan to add and expand lanes on Interstate 5 through the Rose Quarter.
A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request was formally made today by the Crag Law Center on behalf of both organizations.
According to the letter, Audubon Society and OPAL want to see, “all documents relating to the question of whether FHWA [Federal Highway Administration] and ODOT intend to prepare initially an environmental assessment (“EA”) as opposed to a more thorough environmental impact statement (“EIS”) for the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project. Documents subject to this request include, without limitation, electronic mail, text messages, web-based content, all writings, letters, memoranda, notes wherever they are found, summaries, working papers, schedules, draft documents, correspondence, documentation of meetings, minutes from meetings, data, graphs, charts, photos, and/or maps.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires EAs and EISs as part of their National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process. “The EA determines whether or not a federal action has the potential to cause significant environmental effects,” states the EPA’s website. An EIS is needed when a project is, “Determined to significantly affect the quality of the human environment.” At issue here the fact that an EA requires much less work than a full-blown EIS. In the words of the EPA: “The regulatory requirements for an EIS are more detailed and rigorous than the requirements for an EA.”
According to Chris Winter, the Crag Law Center lawyer who filed the request, his clients are, “Seeking to better understand the environmental analysis regarding the I-5 project and to explain the scope and nature of the environmental review to be conducted.” “Both organizations have been leading voices for protection of air and water quality in the Portland metro region,” Winter writes in the letter, “and provide education to their members and the public about threats to the natural resources that could be impacted by this project.”
OPAL and Audubon have both signed onto a list of Portland-area organizations hosted by No More Freeways PDX, “expressing concern for the proposed expansion of the Rose Quarter Freeway.” The project has garnered intense opposition due to the agency’s claims that it will relieve traffic congestion and improve safety — even though no highway expansion has ever reduced congestion and the safety concerns have proven to be way overblown.
The FHWA is expected to respond to this request within 20 working days.
Stay tuned this coming Monday (3/26) when both organizations are set to make a public statement about the request.
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