PGE proposal threatens remaining red-legged frogs in Forest Park

High-tech industry in Hillsboro and climate change are fueling a rapidly growing local market for electricity. In the next five years Intel will likely build one new semiconductor fabrication plant and rebuild another. Each plant uses as much electricity as 50,000 homes.

To meet this growth, Portland General Electric (PGE) would like to expand delivery of power to its new substation in Linnton, and reach the Hillsboro tech giant by cutting a swath through Forest Park for electrical lines.

PGE has proposed the new high-tension line to run adjacent to the existing Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) cut through the park. The company has the leverage of retaining the original adjacent land easements from decades ago. Construction would entail cutting down a swath of forest at least 1,000 feet long, 250 feet wide—at least 6 acres in all—and installing 13 giant steel monopoles, on cement foundations, climbing up the hill. PGE has already gotten permits to put in an underwater cable running down the Columbia and up the Willamette Rivers to the Linnton substation.

The initial drawings PGE submitted show the new line going both west and south along the BPA lines, but with no mention of what the wires are hung on, nor how much additional forest will need to be cut.

A spokesperson for PGE has said that the project is needed to “enhance reliability and resilience” of the grid. 

On a recent walking tour of the site proposed to be cleared, it was pointed out that in the path of destruction are high-value native oak trees, an ephemeral stream meandering through dense native ferns, wildflowers and large Douglas firs. Nearby is a bald eagle nest site and two pristine creeks, Marine Way and Harborton, that could be exposed to clear-cut machinery and erosion run-off.

Seasonal stream in Forest Park area PGE proposes to clear-cut
Seasonal stream creates crucial red-legged frog habitat in Forest Park area PGE proposes to clear-cut

Since 2022, the Forest Park Conservancy (FPC) has waited for PGE to share finalized details of the project’s scope, as well as information on alternative options and an assessment of potential impacts. Both were required by the city application process. FPC has never received any updates from PGE (Marianne Wilburn, Forest Park Conservancy, 4/8/24).

Instead, the company seems to be focusing on public relations. According to Willamette Week they’ve confirmed doing research on residents’ opinions about Forest Park and the Forest Park Conservancy.

Forest Park Conservancy’s official statement on the proposed cut:

“Forest Park Conservancy (FPC) is deeply concerned about the potential impact of PGE’s proposed work in the northeastern part of Forest Park near Highway 30/BPA trail head, slated to affect 9 acres of forest. This area is rich in wildlife diversity, larger trees, and has a stream running through it where the northern red-legged frog, an at-risk species as noted in the Special Status and At-Risk Species List 2022 Preliminary Update Report prepared by Environmental Services, has been observed.

FPC wants to see alternatives presented by PGE—where else can this work be done? Additionally, we would like to see why this site is being favored over these alternatives and how PGE proposes to minimize their impacts in Forest Park given the scale of the proposed project and its potential impacts on the park.”

Shawn Looney, a Linnton resident and one of the leaders of the red-legged Frog Taxi team said we “definitely believe a further clear-cut up there will be detrimental to the red-legged frogs. The frogs spend summers in Forest Park, staying in shaded areas and burrowing in near sword ferns when it gets too hot. The clear-cut will take away a fair amount of shady terrain to a species that’s already in trouble due to reduced habitat.”

A down tree creates habitat in area PGE proposes to clear-cut
A down tree/nurse tree creates ideal habitat for amphibians

In fact, the Harborton Creek area where the clear-cut is proposed is one of few known places in Forest Park the frogs still annually migrate down to the wetlands below in order to breed. At one time, their migration occurred throughout the park over many miles. But there are now fewer wetlands near the river. Frog Taxi volunteers help the frogs bypass 4-lane Hwy. 30, a tangle of blackberries on the other side, a set of railroad tracks and another road, all of which the frogs must cross before reaching the wetland. After breeding, they must return to the forest by the same route. Frog Taxi volunteers help move the frogs in both directions.

The FPC plans on providing updates on the state of the PGE project as new developments occur through their newsletter at ForestParkConservancy.org

A public comment period will occur after the proposal is formally presented for approval. You can see PGE’s proposed plan here.

Exploring the area in Forest Park PGE proposes to clear-cut
Exploring the area in question

Adapted from a Linnton newsletter article by Rob Lee