Environmental review is a major phase of project planning. We take a hard look at the project alternatives and assess their benefits and impacts. We gather input from the public, agencies and others who have a stake in the project.

The goal of the process is to gather the information we need to make an informed decision. It guides us in deciding which alternative to build and how to build it. Which alternatives we review and how we evaluate them are greatly influenced by what we hear from the community.

During environmental review, we prepare more detailed concepts of the short list of alternatives. We look at how each alternative would affect social, cultural, built and natural resources. We also look at cost, ease of building, ability to survive an earthquake and other factors.

As part of the process, we will prepare an Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS. This is required by the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.

What is NEPA?

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.

There are currently no federal funds in the Earthquake Ready Burnside Bridge project. However, we must follow NEPA in order to be eligible for federal funding for design and construction. As the project sponsor, Multnomah County is a co-lead agency with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT).

What is an Environmental Impact Statement?

An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is a document required by NEPA. 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 if there is significant public controversy.

First a Draft EIS is prepared, including recommendation of a preferred alternative. Following public comment, a Final EIS refines and updates the draft. A Record of Decision (ROD) by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) makes a formal decision on which alternative to build. For this project, the ROD will be published along with the Final EIS.

Because we will be seeking federal highway funding, the lead agency for this EIS will be the FHWA.

Notice of Intent (NOI) and Formal Scoping

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 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.

What are the stages of an EIS?

Scoping

  • 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 engaging 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 has concluded. 

Draft EIS

An EIS is required for projects that require federal action (permits, approvals or funding), and that would likely have significant environmental effects. 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.

Preferred Alternative

  • 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. The public and agencies will also be able to provide additional comments once the Draft EIS is published in January 2021, prior to a final decision being made.

Comment Period

  • After the DEIS is issued, the public and agencies are invited to review and comment on it in writing or at public hearings.

Final EIS

Following the comment period on the Draft EIS, the agency prepares a Final EIS that:
  • Provides responses to comments received on the Draft EIS
  • Refines and updates the alternatives and analysis as appropriate

Record of Decision (ROD)

  • Documents the federal lead agency decision regarding which alternative to advance beyond the NEPA phase 

  • Includes commitments to mitigation measures

  • Demonstrates compliance with other federal environmental regulations

  • Can be simultaneous with the Final EIS

After the ROD

  • Waiting period, during which legal challenges to the ROD may be filed

  • After the waiting period, begin acquiring funding, permits and approvals, begin final design

How can I be involved in the environmental review process?

The public and various agencies will be involved throughout the process. There will be public meetings and other ways to comment.

The phases where public input is most crucial are early scoping (complete), formal scoping (complete), identification of a preferred alternative and review of the Draft EIS.

Learn more about how to get involved.

Timeline

A Draft EIS will be published in January 2021 for public comment.

The Final EIS and the Record of Decision are expected in fall of 2021.

Learn More