How Should We Assess the Health Impacts of West Hayden Island Development?

June 19, 2012

Sometime this fall, the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission will be making a recommendation to City Council on whether or not to annex West Hayden Island for the purpose of enabling the Port of Portland to develop a rail/marine terminal.

The question is already controversial and it’s easy to see this being positioned as a “jobs versus the environment” choice (although in fact I think it’s really more nuanced).

I’m just sitting down to read the draft plan (PDF) and plan to attend the open house Wednesday night. I expect this will be one of the most challenging decisions I’ll be involved in while on the Commission.

But before we get to the big decision, we have an important step on the way next week. Staff will brief the Commission on what factors we might want to have go into some form of Health Impact Assessment as part of the decision-making process this fall. The briefing packet (PDF, 111 pages, sorry) outlines what health information we already have and what we may want to collect (for example, more noise data).

But the meat of my question is expressed in the staff memo introducing the packet, suggesting the issues we might want covered by a Health Impact Assessment:

  • To what extent would the distance and topography between the WHI [West Hayden Island] port and residences in EHI [East Hayden Island] provide an effective buffer that would mitigate noise effects from the operation of the facility or the rail traffic to and from the facility?
  • To what extent would port-generated rail traffic on the elevated rail line that currently crosses WHI cause a noticeable increase in noise effects over current rail traffic? For example, the time of day, duration, or both of port-generated rail traffic may cause a noticeable increase in noise effects.
  • To what extent would port-generated truck traffic on NHID [North Hayden Island Drive] cause a noticeable increase in noise effects over current or projected truck traffic? For example, the time of day of truck traffic may cause a noticeable increase in noise effects.
  • If a HIA [Health Impact Assessment] determines that port-generated traffic would cause a noticeable increase in noise effects, what types of measure could mitigate these effects?
  • What is the geographic extent of the affected air shed and what populations, schools, employment centers, etc. are located in this air shed?
  • How will port-related activities affect air quality in the affected air shed?
  • What other sources of air pollution are present near the WHI port and what is their contributions to air pollution in the affected air shed?
  • What is the current prevalence of asthma and other respiratory diseases, cardiovascular disease, cancer risk, low birth weight babies in the affected air shed?

Today’s topic for discussion: are these the right questions to be asking? Are there other factors we should consider?

Also, I anticipate the argument will be made that some of these factors cannot be judged without a more specific facility design, and assessment should be postponed until an Environmental Impact Statement phase (after annexation). Others will argue that these are critical issues and should be assessed before annexation.

What do you think?


  1. Has any consideration been done to merging the Port of Vancouver & the Port of Portland? I remember reading in comments somewhere that they have plenty of extra space on the other side of the river… Or perhaps those jobs are precious and we want them at all costs.

    If we do want those jobs in Oregon, let’s make sure we’re doing everything we can to make sure that the WHI terminal is accessible with or without CRC and that the jobs are an easy commute from existing neighborhoods in N/NE Portland.

  2. Folks I’ve talked with see merging the Ports as a political challenge much bigger than this project.

    The planners have looked at cargo capacity on both sides of the river in assessing the need for this facility, but the huge variability in the cargo forecasts is scary.

    • Chris, The Ports will continue to put off merging or even increased cooperation and collaboration as long as they are allowed to do so and along as they are allowed to expand onto greenfield rather than find more efficient ways to use the existing industrial land base. When the Port ended the 2009 annexation process, in large part due to questions raised about their competition with the Port of Vancouver raised by the Business Journal of Portland, they assured the community that they would take a hard look at this issue. However meaningful exploration of this issue never happened and the city continues to let them off the hook. A sustainable Columbia River port system is not going to facilitated by developing West Hayden Island…it is only going to occur if our political leaders force a discussion about integrating the port system in a way that allows the neighboring ports to efficiently and effectively compete on the global market rather than against one another.

      As per the analysis, EcoNorthwest concludes that the Port of Vancouver does have adequate land to meet the most likely scenario under the 40 year industrial land demand forecasts. We don’t need to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in WHI, destroy and critical natural area and impact a environmental justice community “just in case” we exceed the highest probability forecasts.

      With regards to the Health Impact Assessment, I suggest you take a look at the draft IGA that was just released by the City and Port. Apparently the Port and Bureau of Planning and Sustainability decided to short circuit your decision—the document states that the HIA will be delayed up until the time when the Port goes for its development permits, the the Port will do the HIA (or something like an HIA) and that the city and county are only allowed to participate at the sole discretion of the the Port. The city also abandons its commitment to substantively addressing issues such as noise, sound, light, vibration, dust and pollution instead deferring to vague references to BMPs, regulatory minimums, and monitoring. Lastly the IGA fails to address SB 766 issues which if applied to WHI could allow the Port to significantly limit the communities ability to participate in or appeal West Hayden Island decisions once the island is annexed and rezoned.

      Hopefully the Planning and Sustainability Committee will bring some transparency and integrity and civic responsibility back to this process.

  3. Chris, this is the language taken directly from the Draft Intergovernmental Agreement that was released by the city last Friday. Note that the health assessment is 1) postponed until after this planning process, 2) left in the hands of the Port and 3) The city and county can only participate at the Port’s discretion.

    5.3.2 The parties acknowledge that consideration of health impacts will likely be required as part of federal permit approvals for marine terminal development. A Health Impact Assessment (HIA) may be one mechanism to provide that information. In the event that
    an HIA is not prepared as part of the federal permitting process, the Port agrees to perform a substantially equivalent assessment. The Port agrees to provide the City and the Multnomah
    County Health Department with advance notice of this assessment, and to give both agencies a reasonable time in which to provide the Port with comments. The Port may, at its option, invite
    the City and County Health Department’s participation in that assessment.

  4. Bob, that language anticipates an HIA in the permitting process – not a surprise. But I don’t see any language that precludes an assessment as part of the annexation decision?

  5. Chris,
    Thank you for attending the WHI open house tonight at the Oxford Suites, Jantzen Beach. The residents of Hayden Island are fighting for their homes and livability. I hope you saw that and heard it in their voices. Hayden Island is a case study of inequity from the CRC, Lottery Row (OLCC issues), restructuring and teardown of the JB Mall and now WHI. The residents west of the I-5 bridge and including the JB floating home moorage have become organized and knowledgeable out of necessity. But who in the City is advocating for us? We are the largest manufactured home community in the state of Oregon. There are about 1,200-1,400 seniors and retirees, college students, families with children and disabled living here. It is barely affordable housing for most of us and we are concerned about the loss of our homes if the land our homes sit on is sold. We have no protection and are being ignored by the City. We are feeling expendable.
    Thank you.
    Donna Murphy
    co-Chair, Hayden Island Livability Project

  6. Donna, your community was vocal and eloquent this evening! The first step is to make sure we get a sufficiently complete Health Impact Assessment. The major issues I heard tonight were air quality, noise, light and traffic impacts (if a new bridge is not built). Are there other health concerns we should be looking at?

    • Chris, well, we live on an island in the middle of the Columbia and surrounded by: industrial development, barge traffic on the river, PDX and Coast Guard flyovers, I-5 bridge, BSNF railroad bridge and Vancouver rail yard. What we are very concerned about are the ‘closer proximity’ to a marine terminal, rail spur with idling trains and ships and the “compounded’ effects when combined with the already existing impacts. Our community borders the small cove adjacent to the rail bridge and is less than one-half mile to the east and the proposed marine terminal is on the west side. There is very little room for ‘buffers’ (as the City/Port calls them) to block noise and light. There will be trains coupling and un-coupling and horn blowing from the new rail bridge traffic. The traffic impacts with no bridge built will be a joke. We have a red blinking light and stop sign at the second entrance to our community. The only time traffic stops is if there is a pedestrian crossing, otherwise it is tap and go. People who live in our community and work at businesses on the island cross Hayden Is. Dr. with great risk now. The traffic is incredible from mid-October to mid-January and it quite literally comes to a grinding halt and no one moves. So ask me if trucks idling in that kind of traffic will be harmful to our health. How long does it take to get a sufficiently complete HIA? Would the Health Department be doing it or the Port? Thank you for listening to our concerns, Chris.

      • Donna, Timing and who does what will definitely be part of the discussion on Tuesday. But I don’t think it’s currently being proposed that the Port do any part of the health assessment in this round.

      • Chris,
        Sorry if I’m so ‘wordy’, but I’m just so concerned about our livability and health issues. This community has families with children and some very fragile seniors living here. Thanks so much.

  7. Chris,
    Donna Murphy, Hayden Island resident. I wasn’t able to attend the BPS meeting last night, but after talking in depth with a neighbor who attended told me that she was very disappointed with how it went. It seems that Eric Engstrom does a good job of emphasizing how many meetings they have had and reports they have produced all the while avoiding the fact that they are miles from anything resembling a final product. Not to mention the dysfunction and controversy that marks this whole process.

    There are some glaring issues that I must bring up.
    – The fact that the expert panel did not complete their review makes the report incomplete.
    – The report will not be incorporated into the annexation proposal. (Rachel Hoy informed me yesterday that only ‘relevant’ health info will go into the ESEE). Who decides what is relevant?
    – There will be only six days between the final committee meeting and the first hearing which really is not enough time for groups to get a handle on the product being presented.

    My friend said that the council seemed to accept the idea that they will just figure it out in the actual hearing process. I find it incredible that the commission is allowing the process to proceed to a hearing on the 15th. The question in my mind is this: “does this mean that there will be a flood of three minute statements from the public on Nov. 15th that you will listen to and perhaps sympathize with, but in reality most of the negotiating will be done directly with staff”? What else is the public to think when there are unfinished reviews, incomplete reports, a mitigation package that is so inappropriate and so many organizations that are solidly against this development?

    Is my community of 1,200+ people disposable and are we considered collateral damage? That is how we feel after the years of watching this sham of a process unfold with very little regard for the staggering health issues that this development will bring to all of the island and North Portland. To say that I’m disappointed, no, I’m angry.
    Donna Murphy
    Co-Chair, HILP

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