Portland's summer transportation nuisance, the closure of Morrison Bridge, has triggered a potential lawsuit between the project's contractor and the bridge's owner, Multnomah County. The $4.2 million project, intended to be finished by November, now has an indefinite 2012 completion date due to a environmental and safety- based debacle.

The Morrison Bridge in its glory days
  • Multnomah County
  • The Morrison Bridge in its glory days

According to the County, Conway Construction Company, the bridge's contractor, fails to comply with the environmental regulations of the project by letting lead-based paint and other contaminants fall into the Willamette River below. Along with dirtying the water, the chemicals — chromium, arsenic and lead, according to a July inspection by the Department of Environmental Quality — could endanger fish already protected by the Endangered Species Act. As we noted in a July issue, every bridge project in the state has to take fish, specially endangered salmon, into account.

David Conway, contractor president, however, denies the majority of these claims, saying that it was an "act of God" that the chemicals appeared in the water. Despite summer storms that could have thrown a wrench in containment, Conway swears that his large plastic tarps hanging below the bridge caught all debris and that there is no way their project has affected the river.

In response, Multnomah County officials sent Conway a letter on August 2nd expressing their intent to sever their contract unless it cleans up its act. Conway has until September 2nd to reply with a plan for a more effective containment set up. "Failure to meet these requirements will result in the County terminating our contract with Conway Construction Company for Default," writes Brian Vincent, county engineer, in the letter. To sum it up, If Conway doesn't comply, there could be a hefty lawsuit in the works. Keep posted, faithful commuters.