Troubled Water 

Environmental Activists Target the Columbia River Crossing with Civil Disobedience

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ON MONDAY afternoon, Maya Smeloff nimbly hoisted herself over a metal barrier and onto the lower trusses of the Morrison Bridge. Inch by inch, she crawled out over the Willamette, and unfurled a giant banner, scrawled with the message, "Six More Lanes = More Sick People; No I-5 Expansion." Nearby, on the Waterfront Park walkway, an ebullient crowd of her cohorts danced and chanted, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, do we need six more lanes? Hell, no!"

Smeloff's August 4 protest was part of a series of actions from Convergence for Climate Action, a group of mostly young activists who are targeting controversial projects like the $4.2 billion Columbia River Crossing (CRC) bridge and a liquefied natural gas import facility. Both projects, the activists argue, will have a negative impact on the climate.

The same group demonstrated at city hall on July 9—the day the Portland City Council held a public hearing on the CRC. There, the activists erected a fake oil rig, and some pretended to worship the oil gods while others with the "Oil Enforcement Agency" issued tickets to gas guzzlers.

This week's protest upped the ante. Smeloff—who came down within the hour, leaving her banner behind—was cited for trespassing and has a hearing on September 2 in community court. It's her first citation, though the 27-year-old been an environmental activist for as long as she can remember.

"I've been raised to do this," she says, noting that her father is an environmentalist.

Tim Brown, a man who blocked access to the Morrison Bridge's lower trusses by locking himself to the fence, was also cited.

Though the Portland City Council and Metro put multiple conditions on their approval of the CRC last month—both bodies want the new bridge to reduce vehicle traffic, for example, and light rail is a non-negotiable requirement of further local approval—the activists say that isn't good enough.

"Portland needs to rethink their plans," says Smeloff, noting that a replacement bridge with six new "auxiliary" lanes "means a 40 percent increase in traffic. We need to be reducing our CO2 emissions, rather than increasing them."

She climbed out onto the Morrison Bridge to increase public awareness of the issue (the activists didn't climb the existing I-5 bridge, because they would have faced stiffer charges).

"We're trying to expose this expansion of the I-5 bridge as a plan that's not going to be doing a lot to help traffic, and is going to be increasing our pollution of climate-change-producing greenhouse gasses, as well as polluting neighborhoods in North Portland and Northeast Portland," adds Brian Sloan, a Northeast Portland resident who works with Rising Tide North America—a group that focuses on "confronting the root causes of climate change"—and the Convergence for Climate Action group.

"If we're going to be spending a lot of money on any project, that project really needs to be focused on how we're going to deal with this climate-change crisis and the oil crisis," Sloan continues. "That's the biggest challenge of this century, and anything that's not making that the first priority as opposed to 10th on a list somewhere is really not acceptable."

"This isn't it, either," adds Sloan, when asked about further protests. "We're not done." He declined to provide details, but Sloan indicated the Convergence group would have at least one more—and bigger—civil disobedience action this week. Check blogtown.portlandmercury.com for updates.

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