- What is NEPA?
- What is an Environmental Impact Statement?
- What are the stages of an EIS?
- Public Outreach
The Environmental Review Phase from 2019 to 2023 served an important role in project planning. During this phase, the project team evaluated a range of alternatives that addressed the purpose and need, screened alternatives against a set of evaluation criteria, and selected one alternative to advance into the Design Phase. This evaluation process is required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a federal law enacted in 1970 to ensure that key decisions about transportation projects take into account impacts to people and the environment. During the Environmental Review phase, the project looked at how each alternative, including the No Build (or ‘do nothing’) alternative, would affect social, cultural, built and natural resources. The project also looked at cost, ease of building, ability to survive an earthquake and other factors.The process allows the selection of a preferred alternative that best meets the needs of the project while balancing a wide range of impacts.
The alternatives the project considers and how they’re evaluated are greatly influenced by community feedback.
As part of the Environmental Review Phase, the project prepared an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which included public input gathered throughout the study.
In fall 2019, the County asked the public to review and comment on important elements of the study, including:
- Bridge alternatives that met the purpose and need for the project
- Space needs on the bridge- how the lane widths on the bridge can be designed to best serve people walking, biking, taking transit, and driving in the future
- Traffic management during construction
- Evaluation criteria that will help determine a preferred bridge alternative for construction
- Areas of interest to be studied in the Draft EIS
In late 2020, the County asked for feedback from the community on the initial recommended Preferred Alternative. 88 percent of those who responded to the survey chose the Replacement Long Span as the best option for its seismic resiliency, lowest cost and least environmental impacts. The Community Task Force also recommended the Replacement Long Span. The Multnomah County’s Board of Commissioners approved the Replacement Long Span in October 2020. In early 2021, the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), documenting the results of the analysis, was published for public review and comment.
Upon completion of the Draft EIS, County leaders raised concerns about the project’s cost. Recognizing rising costs due to current economic conditions and competition for funds from other large projects in the region, County leaders asked the project team to analyze ways to reduce the cost so the project is more likely to be funded and built. After further cost analysis and environmental review as well as input from stakeholders, the project team identified three key refinements to the initial Replacement Long Span Preferred Alternative for the community to consider. The benefits and impacts of the proposed refinements to the Preferred Alternative were published in a Supplemental Draft EIS in April 2022 for public review along with a 45-day public comment period. A Final EIS and Record of Decision is scheduled to be published in December 2023.
NEPA refers to a federal law called the National Environmental Policy Act. It is the basis of federal environmental policy. It applies to all federal agencies and their actions, including permitting, funding and building projects. NEPA sets a standard for how these agencies study and report environmental effects. It also defines how they involve the public in decision-making before taking action.
NEPA requires all federal agencies to take a thorough look at how their potential actions would affect the human and natural environment. This includes evaluating and ensuring compliance with other laws and regulations, such as the Clean Water Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.
During the Environmental Review Phase, there were no federal funds in the Earthquake Ready Burnside Bridge Project. However, the County wanted to follow NEPA in order to be eligible for federal funding for design and construction and also to secure project permits needed from federal agencies. As the project sponsor, Multnomah County is a co-lead agency with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT).
An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is a document required for projects that require federal action (permits, approvals or funding), and that would likely have significant environmental effects. It describes the environmental effects of a proposed action and one or more alternatives. It is meant as a tool to assist in decision-making. It is required for any federal action that is expected to have significant environmental impacts or public concern.
First a Draft EIS is prepared which includes a recommendation of a preferred alternative. Following public comment, a Final EIS refines and updates the draft. Then the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) issues a Record of Decision (ROD) on which alternative to build. If any notable changes are made to the alternatives after the Draft EIS is published, a Supplemental Draft EIS documenting those changes is published for public review and comment before the Final EIS is approved and the Record of Decision is made.
Notice of Intent (NOI)
To begin the formal NEPA process, the Federal Highway Administration issues a ‘Notice of Intent’ (NOI). This is a formal announcement that an EIS is being prepared and an opportunity for the public to share input about what is being studied.
The NOI for the project was published in the Federal Register on April 14, 2020, which included a 30-day comment period for the public to share comments about what should be studied, including the Purpose and Need, Range of Alternatives and Topics of Study. The NOI followed months of early scoping activities, gathering public and agency input that helped develop and screen alternatives, identify issues of concern and inform the development of evaluation criteria for selecting a preferred alternative.
- Establish the basic purpose and need of the proposed action
- Identify and screen the alternatives that would best address the purpose and need
- Identify the potential environmental impacts that need to be evaluated
- Identify stakeholders who will be interested in the proposed action and its impacts
Multnomah County and FHWA implemented a Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) strategy that included conducting “early scoping” activities prior to the formal scoping process after the issuance of the Notice of Intent. This strategy included working with the public and agencies in developing the draft purpose and need statement, identifying and screening alternatives and identifying topics to be studied in the Draft EIS. The formal scoping process provided a final opportunity for input on these topics before drafting the EIS. The formal scoping period is now closed.
Before an EIS is final, a draft EIS is first prepared and provided to the public and agencies for review and comment. The Draft EIS includes the following:
- Describes the project purpose and need, and the range of alternatives being studied
- Studies the environmental impacts of the alternatives
- Identifies ways to minimize the impacts
- Evaluates and demonstrates how the action will comply with other environmental regulations
- Compares and contrasts the alternatives
- Identifies the preferred alternative, if there is one.
The DEIS was published on February 5, 2021 and available for public comment through March 24, 2021. The formal DEIS comment period is now closed.
A library of the DEIS and related documents can be found here.
Supplemental Draft EIS
If any meaningful changes are made to the project and Preferred Alternative following the DEIS comment period, the impacts of those changes will be documented in a Supplemental Draft EIS. The SDEIS is then published for another round of public review and comment.
For this project, in spring 2021, after the DEIS comment period, new cost and funding challenges were identified. With this new information, County leadership directed the project team to look at ways to reduce the project cost. The project team identified cost saving refinements to the Preferred Alternative. These changes and their associated positive and negative impacts were analyzed and documented in a Supplemental Draft EIS.
- Based on analysis and input, the agency identifies which alternative is the most promising, and requests public input.
- For this project, the Community Task Force recommended a preferred alternative in June 2020. Public and agency input was sought on this recommendation throughout the summer of 2020. In fall 2020, the Policy Group approved the recommendation.
- The public and agencies were able to submit additional comments as part of the Draft EIS comment period in February/March 2021.
- In fall/winter 2021, the public was provided an opportunity to review and submit feedback on the three key cost saving refinements to the Preferred Alternative.
- On April 29, 2022, a Supplemental Draft EIS documenting the refinements to the Preferred Alternative was published along with a 45-day public comment period.
- Following the comment periods on the Draft and Supplemental EIS, the Final EIS documents responses to comments received on the Draft and Supplemental EIS and updates the alternatives and analysis, as appropriate.
Record of Decision (ROD)
A Record of Decision (ROD) is the federal environmental decision document, issued by Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which explains the reasons for the project decision, summarizes any mitigation measures that will be incorporated in the project. It also demonstrates the project's compliance with other federal regulations and guidance and can be published simultaneously with the Final EIS. A Final EIS and ROD from FHWA are expected in late 2023.
The Environmental Review Phase included many community voices with a robust public outreach process. You can read more about each round of engagement and a summary of public involvement on the Project Library page.
The project is now moving into the Design Phase, read more and learn how to be involved in the next phase of the project.