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Oregon Supreme Court Uphold Metro's Final Order for Columbia River Crossing

The case of Weber Coastal Bells v. Metro, is only the beginning of the long battle for approval of the Columbia River Crossing bridge and light rail extension between Portland and Vancouver. This case involved an appeal to LUBA, followed by Supreme Court review of both UBA’s remand of Metro’s Final Order, and Metro’s subsequent modification of that order on remand. Below is a summary of the first attempt to derail the project. In light of the Supreme Court’s June 28th decision, more controversy is likely ahead, particularly as to the approval of the bridge north of Hayden Island to the state boundary.

Of the 12 assignments of error presented by opponents to the Columbia River Crossing in this case, LUBA affirmed 11 of them. In its most significant ruling, LUBA found that approving a large proportion of highway improvements along with light rail did not violate a 1996 state statute adopted to authorize a light rail project. LUBA reasoned that the scope of the project under the statute includes “any highway improvements” that are described in the Draftor Final Environmental Impact Statement and these improvements need not be related, required by or connected to the siting of the rail line. LUBA agreed with Metro and other respondents that the highway improvements were “associated” with the light rail component in that it could not have been approved if it did not include a highway component as well.

The Oregon Supreme Court affirmed LUBA’s decision but went even further than LUBA in disclaiming any requirement for a connection with light rail. Rather, the court explained that the political necessity of requiring the inclusion of highway improvements along with light rail is a sufficient reason to satisfy the 1996 act requiring whatever is necessary to complete the South North MAX Light Rail Project.

Where LUBA did remand, it found that Metro erred by relying on the 1996 statute to include within the project that area north of the north shore of Hayden Island and extending to the state boundary, an area that is outside the urban growth boundary (UGB), because the project boundaries are limited by the statute to those within a UGB. Unlike other land use decisions, the statute requires that LUBA affirm those portions of a Metro Council Land Use Final Order that it does not remand. Therefore, the project was affirmed but for the small portion which Metro has other means of incorporating into the project.

Plaid Pantries appealed the decision on remand once more to the Oregon Supreme Court. Plaid Pantries argued that Metro’s findings in the Land Use Final Order adopted after the remand indicated that Metro was not allowed to find that necessary land use approvals for the area north of Hayden Island and the state boundary had already been adopted. However, the Oregon Supreme Court decided that Metro’s factual characterization of other agency land use approval processes was irrelevant because Metro has no jurisdiction over this geographic area.

Keep an eye out for further land use decisions regarding the portion of the bridge between North Hayden Island and Vancouver.

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