A front page headline in today's Salem Statesman Journal blared in big letters:
Million$ in Federal Money:
Pay It Back?
Appropriately, federal officials are wondering what happened to the $9.8 million in grants that Salem-Keizer Transit used to pay for its portion of the now completely unusable Courthouse Square project.
The feds are asking the local transit district this question: What will become of federal investments in the Salem bus mall?
The 10-year-old Courthouse Square bus mall and office building are so poorly designed that engineers say they're dangerous. And a sizable chunk of the $34 million used to build the ill-fated project came from the federal government.
...The outcome may depend on whether the transit district can demonstrate that it exercised proper due diligence in overseeing the use of federal dollars, as well as its response when Courthouse Square's problems became known. A forensic investigation — which is funded by Courthouse Square's owners — has just begun and will seek to uncover how and why so many things went wrong.
Hopefully both the feds and the private investigation will take a close look not only at the shabby construction techniques, but also at the shoddy way the Marion County Commissioners oversaw Courthouse Square once problems began to surface.
As I noted in "Lessons of Salem's Courthouse Square debacle," each of the three current Commissioners was in office when, just a few years after Courthouse Square, structural defects became evident.
Yet it opened just ten years ago, in 2000, when one of the three current Republican county commissioners, Patti Milne, was in office. The other commissioners came along a bit later, Janet Carlson in 2002 and Sam Brentano in 2003.
All of them are open to the eminently justifiable criticism that they fiddled around while Courthouse Square came ever closer to falling to the ground.
Somehow I suspect that if three Democratic commissioners had overseen this massive waste of taxpayer money (structural problems became apparent in 2002, but were never effectively addressed), the Chamber of Commerce-dominated Statesman Journal would be a lot harder on the politicians in charge.
...why are we Marion County citizens stuck with owing $20 million on Courthouse Square even though the building is unusable, and the commissioners have agreed to settle with the architects/contractors for only about $1.8 million?
It sure seems like our "thrifty" Republican county commissioners have just dug taxpayers an $18.2 million hole -- not counting all the money it's going to cost to rent space to house county employees for a long time.
Experts now estimate that it will take more money to repair Courthouse Square than it cost to build the damn thing in the first place. Yet somehow the Statesman Journal editorial board has never criticized the Marion County Commissioners who stood by and did almost nothing as the project crumbled.
Ideas for what to do with the Courthouse Square block are being tossed around. Several letters to the editor have suggested, "Tear the whole thing down, make it a public square, and then erect a plaque that memorializes the politicians who wasted $34 million of taxpayer money."
Sounds like a great idea.