A lot happens where the Willamette River dumps into the Columbia.
Ships constantly haul goods in and out of Portland and Vancouver. Threatened salmon swim under their hulls, and migrating birds, as well as planes, fly overhead.
The Port of Portland is now pressing to expand operations, by having the city annex part of an island in the Columbia River. The port’s big plans for West Hayden Island will be the subject of a meeting tonight in Portland, as Rob Manning reports.
Rob Manning: "I’m standing in a parking lot at Jantzen Beach, which is what most people probably think of when they hear about Hayden Island. There’s a Best Buy here, a Video Only, Circuit City, a Home Depot… But there’s a whole other side of the island, that doesn’t have any of these stores.”
Rob Manning: “There’s a gate and a train trestle that basically cuts Hayden Island in half, from the east side to the west side. So, you can only go so far unless you’re accompanied by someone with the Port of Portland.”
Sebastian Degens: “OK, we’re currently standing on the north side of West Hayden Island.”
Sebastian Degens is the planning and development manager at the Port of Portland. He and I are looking north at the Columbia River.
Sebastian Degens: “We’re looking at the Portland-Vancouver harbor. There’s a grain elevator that’s loading grain, or unloading grain, from a barge right here. And there’s steel scrap being unloaded at Vancouver’s adjacent dock.”
If the Port had its way, harbor operations would expand here, within sight of the Port of Vancouver and the Port of Portland.
That expansion would include another terminal - potentially cranes, elevators, and rail and trucking operations.
Sebastian Degens: “Fundamentally, it’s the north shore that we’re standing on that has the greatest potential from a harbor perspective. This is the side that has the navigation channel that’s been improved.”
Port officials say West Hayden Island’s proximity to rail lines and the river make it perfect for a new terminal. They hope to balance the development by improving the wetlands on the island’s south side.
Sebastian Degens: “We’ve identified several of these sites as potential for more enhancement for off-channel habitat areas.”
But the Port tried the shipping and habitat split before - ten years ago. The Audubon Society of Portland helped stop plans, in 1999.
But the Port is trying again— because officials say there’s nowhere else to go.
Conservation director, Bob Sallinger, is no happier now, as he looks over the gate to West Hayden Island.
Bob Sallinger: “The idea of putting parking lots over 4 or 500 acres of intact wildlife habitat and calling it good for the environment is really just a joke.”
Sallinger says the Port failed to prove the economic and environmental case ten years ago, and can’t make it, today.
Sallinger wants to protect as much of West Hayden Island as possible, to help retain all the historic habitat he can.
Bob Sallinger: “And so, when you remove this piece, you’re undermining that entire system. And that entire system is just a remnant of what was here historically. And to a large degree it’s failing in many ways, already.”
The past ten years have raised more complex environmental issues including climate change, and concern about the survival of salmon.
Bill Wyatt: “Anybody who says it’s more complicated today than it was ten years ago is right. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.”
That’s Port director, Bill Wyatt. He says the environmental questions can be solved later in the process.
Audubon’s Bob Sallinger says the Port is delaying the hard questions, until it’s too late to stop.
The West Hayden Island community working group is likely to hear tonight from one more interest group: East Hayden island. Local residents want a piece of the west side, too, for parks and boat ramps.
So West Hayden may get pulled in three directions - by birds, barges, and boaters.