The Department of Homeland Security has racked up millions of dollars in fines — on paper — from two city bureaus irked by the iron barricade wrapped around the city's federal courthouse.
The feds have no intention of paying.
In fact, Homeland Security says the financial penalties imposed by the Portland Bureau of Transportation and Bureau of Environmental Services are unlawful, citing an argument straight from a civics textbook: the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
In letters to both bureaus, David A. Hess, an assistant director for the Federal Protective Service, pointed to the clause — which says that, in most cases, federal law trumps a conflicting state law.
"The Federal Government is absolutely immune from fines or penalties issued by local governments unless there is a clear waiver of sovereign immunity by Congress," Hess wrote, according to copies of the letters obtained by Pamplin Media. "There has been no such waiver here."
PBOT has proposed some $3.7 million in fines — $500 every 15 minutes, or $48,000 a day — due to bike lanes being blocked by the security fence surrounding the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse.
After concerns that tear gas residue was fouling the city's stormwater system that funnels into the Willamette River, BES imposed a $20,000 fine on Sept. 10. An additional $20,000 a day could be levied, but a spokeswoman said the agency "would not tally penalties until this incident is resolved."
BES tested several catch basins near the courthouse in August and found higher-than-usual concentrations of some heavy metals linked to riot control agents, but was unable to scour one drain because it was blocked by the cement jersey barricades anchoring the fence.
Diane Dulken, the BES spokeswoman, said Oct. 8 that the feds would uncover the blocked drain by "the end of next week."
"Federal officials responded to Environmental Services this week saying they had moved the concrete barriers in an attempt to grant the city access. But the barriers were moved to uncover an unrelated manhole, not the storm drain," she said. "We continue to work with federal officials to gain access to the storm drain to assess its condition, clean sediment as needed and make sure the storm drain functions to prevent street flooding."
The Federal Protective Service, led by Area Commander Luis Lopez, also provided BES with 90 pages of safety data sheets for the various crowd control weapons used by the feds during the often fractious protests outside the facility.
Commissioner Chloe Eudaly oversees PBOT, while control of BES was transferred to Commissioner Amanda Fritz by Mayor Ted Wheeler in September.
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