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Second Commission tour encounters censorship, errors


During the Portland Planning Commission’s second bus tour of east Portland, Steve Wells, Trammell Crow Company Development and Investment Group principal, gives a presentation to tour participants concerning Cascade Station and its progress.
Last year local activists took the Portland Planning Commission on a bus tour of east Portland and its issues. The commission declared itself “blown away” by how much it learned and how graphically the tour had illustrated it. Commission members said they wanted more.

Last month they took their second tour, this time to Portland International Airport, Cascade Station, and several central northeast neighborhoods. This was somewhat less of a success.

The airport tour was timely because the Port of Portland and Portland Bureau of Planning are about to undertake a joint planning effort to update the airport’s master plan. Some disagreements have cropped up even before the process has begun — some community activists felt the plan’s Project Advisory Group was too heavily weighted by membership toward airport interests and there wasn’t enough opportunity for public involvement in subcommittees. However, Port officials have promised a “transparent” process.

The transparency began with the tour. Tour participants, including commission members, were given a briefing session and a tour of the control tower. Five media representatives, meanwhile, were told to wait on the bus. Chris Corich, the Port’s General Manager of Long Range Planning explained that under Federal Aviation Administration rules, the Port would have had to obtain advance approval from the regional office in Seattle for reporters to intrude upon this sacred territory, and it hadn’t thought to do so — this despite the fact that, in the Memo’s case at least, we had indicated our desire to accompany the tour two weeks before. According to community representatives who were allowed into the briefing, no information was divulged that had not been discussed in public settings and, in most cases, reported in press accounts — whew.

We were considered a safe risk to visit two other airport facilities: its environmental program facilities and what Corich called the “Erwin Bergman Hush House.” The latter is an enclosure into which jets are placed before the testing of their engines on the ground. Once inside the $7.8 million enclosure, the very noisy process cannot be heard from a foot outside. It took Bergman, a community activist from the Cully neighborhood, five years to convince the Port it could legally use such a device. Thanks to him, the device — the only such facility in this country except for one at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport — spares the surrounding community from having to listen to 800 such “run-up” operations a year.

Aviation, environmental and safety general manager Phil Ralston explained the Port’s efforts to protect the surrounding environment, and cheerfully admitted it was currently in violation of Department of Environmental Quality standards. The Port applies de-icing chemicals to its runways, and the airlines to their planes, whenever the temperature drops below 40 degrees, Raulston said. The runoff from the chemical is collected. If the concentration of the chemicals is high enough, it is shipped to the city’s wastewater treatment plant. If not, it is placed in holding tanks and released gradually into the Columbia Slough. The problem, he said, is that sometimes the slough’s flow is not high enough to safely absorb the runoff, and the capacity of the Port’s holding tanks isn’t always great enough to see it through these times.

The chemicals contain glycol, which temporarily lowers the oxygen level of the water that fish and other water life must breathe. “We’ve had no major events, we haven’t killed fish, but this does have a cumulative effect,” Raulston said. “We’re in violation, we know it, and so does the Department of Environmental Quality. At one time there was no evidence this contributed to the problem; now we know it does. We know the slough is at risk, and we need to be planning for the future.” The Port is working on increasing its storage capacity, part of $70 million of environmental enhancements.

Another environmental problem is strikes, or collisions between aircraft and birds and other wildlife, almost always fatal to the wildlife and sometimes injurious to the planes. Port aircraft were involved in 85 such strikes last year. Their solution is to remove the wildlife and their habitat from the airport and nearby environs, preferably by non-lethal means.

It cut down trees that could provide forage or nests. It drained one wetland, and recreated a substitute in north Portland’s Vanport area. Elsewhere, it has eliminated potential habitat, such as holding ponds, by placing netting over them. A fence serves a similar function for keeping out coyotes and other critters.

If animals do come through, they are scared away with noisemakers such as a propane cannon and modified shotgun shells. (During the tour, a shrill screamer shell flushed two geese.) Nests and fledglings of itinerant birds are collected and moved. (Resident hawks, which Port gamekeepers know by name, are allowed to stay because they kill or drive off other birds.) As a last resort, intruders are euthanized; this recently happened to a coyote after he made it onto the property for the fourth time, Raulston said.

All this makes community activists reluctant to see the Port expand its holdings, such as a potential purchase of part of Colwood Golf Course, even if it doesn’t immediately mean an expansion of their activities. The Port’s idea of stewardship could include the elimination of animal life, and much plant life, from its holdings in the name of sound operations.

The next stop on the tour was Cascade Station, a 120-acre tract that the Port has loaned to the Bechtel and Trammel Crow companies for development on a long-term lease — in exchange for their contribution of $28 million toward the construction of Airport MAX. The tract was intended to be a commercial village, with offices, retail, hotels, restaurants and theaters all served by their own light rail stops. Development has been hampered by the changes in air travel — the Red Line opened on September 10, 2001, one day before the al-Qaeda terror attack — and partly by what some call bad marketing decisions. In a revision of the original plans two years ago, a proposed movie theater was shelved for the time being, and plans for hotel and office development were cut back, while the retail component was increased. The biggest change was that a prohibition on any retail use containing more than 60,000 square feet of space was modified to allow for three strategically placed big boxes. One of these, a 280,000-square-foot IKEA Furniture outlet at the east end of Cascade Station, has been hailed as the catalyst that will make the complex take off.

Steve Wells, a principal in the development and investment group of Trammel Crow Company told the tour participants that IKEA should open in late July. A deal to bring a Costco Home store to a second big box — this one 120,000 square feet and near the center of the complex — has fallen through. In the process are deals for two hotels, one an Aloft, six stories high, the other four to five stories, a Best Buy, and a 100,000-square-foot office building. There are a variety of deals in progress for major retailers, Wells later told the Memo, but none firm.

“A lot of people are interested; it’s a question of getting the right mix,” he told the Planning Commission.

Somewhere between five and 10 percent of workers and visitors will come by MAX, with the rest taking advantage of large surface parking lots to the north and south of the urban village. Asked about the effect of the enterprise on nearby business communities such as Parkrose and Gateway, Wells said, “It will help some businesses and hurt others. The activity should lift most boats, but there could be some displacement.”

A series of wrong turns and a tight schedule caused the tour to miss about a third of its scheduled destinations in the surrounding neighborhoods. The bus did drive by the 326-unit mixed-age Columbia Knoll development on the old Shrine Hospital property, the new Asian-American shopping center, the new Glenhaven Skate Park now nearing completion immediately north of Madison High School, the former landfill site that some fear will become a big-box development (Wal-Mart) due east across Northeast 82nd Avenue, and the Banfield, The Pet Hospital, corporate world headquarters on the former Glenhaven School property.

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