Archive for June, 2012

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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?

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