Action Alert: Portland Needs to Step Up and Protect its Floodplains

This coming Tuesday the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission (PSC) will hear testimony on the City’s Proposed Floodplain Resilience Plan. See Bird Alliance of Oregon article here

Floodplains are areas that are subject to periodic flooding. Healthy and intact floodplains are essential for the health and safety of our community, to protect water quality, provide fish and wildlife habitat, and provide resilience in the face of climate change. As more and more cities in the United States suffer catastrophic floods, the importance of floodplain protection looms larger and larger. Yet, too many communities, including Portland, continue to allow irresponsible, unmitigated floodplain development. Developers get rich, our communities get put at direct risk, and our environment is degraded. 

Flooding in Cathedral Park
Flooding in Cathedral Park in mid June 2022. Photo by Bob Sallinger.

The Portland Floodplain Resilience Plan is a direct result of a lawsuit that Bird Alliance of Oregon brought more than a decade ago demonstrating that ongoing floodplain development in Oregon is jeopardizing the survival of endangered salmon. Cities with salmon-bearing rivers and streams must update their codes to provide greater floodplain protection.

Portland has done a solid job of developing a plan to meet this challenge, but even before the first public hearing, the city is running scared and caving to developers. In advance of the first hearing, they are already eliminating key provisions. This continues a sad pattern of talking big about climate change and climate justice…and delivering small…or not at all. We will be blunt here–a city that was once known for its environmental leadership has largely stalled in recent years. The Floodplain Resilience Plan is an opportunity to set a statewide and national example of what climate leadership should look like. The plan is years in development and it’s time to move it to adoption.

Take Action

We need your voice to demand that the City step up and lead on floodplain protection, not cower before irresponsible developers. Submit your comments by Friday, September 30 (talking points below):

Submit Comments Here 

On the right side of the page, there is a “TESTIFY” link (white text in a blue box). Click there to submit your comments.

Key Talking Points

Please write the Planning and Sustainability Commission today and tell them the following:

      1. The PSC should adopt the entire Floodplain Resilience Plan which will protect our communities against the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events, protect water quality, and provide fish and wildlife habitat.
      2. It is irresponsible and entirely inconsistent with the City’s Climate Action Plan and Climate Emergency Work Plan to not adequately protect floodplains. Cities across the United States have been hit with major flood events in recent years and Portland has its own tragic history at Vanport. We have had major flooding as recently as last spring.
      3. The plan does not stop all floodplain development but it does increase protections for floodplains and requires real mitigation when floodplains are developed to compensate for the impacts. This puts the costs where they belong–on developers rather than on the community. 
      4. The City must adopt the whole plan. Removal of Title 24 Amendments which require that when developers fill floodplains, they also create an equal amount of new floodplain nearby is not acceptable. It guts one of the most important parts of the plan. Title 24 protections must be restored. 
      5. The City postponed addressing some industrial lands along the river and Columbia River to a later phase of the process. As soon as this plan is adopted it must expedite developing floodplain protections on all industrial lands. These lands include some of our most important floodplains.

We have known for decades that floodplain development puts our communities and environment in harm’s way. We have seen city after city in the United States suffer catastrophic floods and we have seen flooding in our own communities. It’s time to stop talking about climate resilience and actually take steps to do something about it. The choice is clear: rich, irresponsible developers or safe healthy communities, clean water and salmon. 

Please speak up. The City is right on the edge of real progress on this issue, but it won’t happen unless city leaders hear from the community that we are watching and we expect them to live up to their commitments to climate leadership. 

Thanks for speaking up!