An artist’s rendition of what the completed Ridgefield railroad overpass project will look like.

Ridgefield’s goal of connecting the sides East and West of the railroad running through the city has been postponed with the culprit being a population of protected deer that have made their way outside of the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge.

The Port of Ridgefield’s railroad overpass project will have to receive an update to its Environmental Impact Statement assessment to account for possible impacts to Columbian white-tailed deer which have drifted from their original home at the refuge.

The project will continue Pioneer Street West over the existing railroad line before curving north and connecting with the Mill Street intersection. 

The deer weren’t always there. As Port of Ridgefield CEO Brent Grening explained, when the port had initially performed its Environmental Impact Statement, the deer weren’t near and not even in the refuge. It was in 2012 that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service relocated a herd of deer to the refuge, years after the Environmental Impact Statement was created.

Columbian white-tailed deer were listed as endangered at the time of the relocation, however in 2016 they were downgraded to threatened by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Grening said that at the time of the decision to relocate deer to Ridgefield, the port had told those in charge of the relocation about their project. 

Fast-forward to March 2018 when word from the Washington State Department of Transportation reached the port that they would have to re-open the Environmental Impact Statement to take into account the deer which, since their transplantation, had spread outside of refuge boundaries. 

Total impacts are about $35,000 and three to four months, Grening said, adding that those figures were for the limited scope of work they had to do — study impacts on just the deer population.

“The whole environmental assessment is not opened up and we don’t have to re-do the whole thing,” Grening explained. “We just have to put together a piece that addresses Columbia white-tailed deer.”

Grening couldn’t give an exact number on how much it would cost for a full re-do of the assessment but it would be significantly more than $35,000, “and it would be a lot more than three or four months.”

Although Grening anticipates the impact on the population — if any — would be minimal, there must be an update to the Environmental Impact Statement conducted for the project to move forward.

“You can’t just say ‘it doesn’t look to me like it would (have impacts).’ You got to have experts do it,” Grening said.

When the Environmental Impact Statement update is complete it will be up to the rail line, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, to approve the final project plans to be built over their rail line, Grening explained.

“That’s what we are trying to get to, just a full package that we can take to the railroad, get them the review, sign off on it and get to construction,” Grening said. “What we don’t know is how fast that can happen.”

Grening said projections for the overpass project cost would be about $13 million, though he acknowledged several factors such as materials and labor that could affect that total when it goes out to bid now months down the line.

“We had really hoped to be out to bid this spring,” Grening said. With the new setback he still hoped for bids to go out this year, though that is dependent on the rest of the process going smoothly — and no other protected animals make their way into the project area.

“The (deer) don’t see lines on maps, they just kind of do what they do,” Grening remarked.

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