Last Monday's Salem City Council meeting was a poor start for newly-elected Mayor Chuck Bennett.
After Councilor Tom Andersen asked some good questions of City staff about how the design of the proposed Salem River Crossing (a.k.a. the Billion Dollar Boondoggle) could affect a West Salem agenda item, Bennett spoke up, telling Andersen that there wasn't a design for the bridge.
Which is wrong. Of course there is. Mayor Bennett didn't speak the truth. Have a look:
Here's what the No 3rd Bridge folks said in a Facebook post about Bennett's falsehood.
MAYOR BENNETT PRACTICES "POST-TRUTH POLITICS"
Hey it worked for Donald Trump so why not for Mayor Bennett. In this video clip from Monday night's Council meeting the Mayor makes a patently false statement: "There is no design for a bridge in place right now."
What did the Council vote to add to the Salem Transportation System plan in December 5th. Was that not a design for a 3rd Bridge?
'Design' is defined as "a preliminary sketch or outline showing the main features of a thing to be executed." We have that in spades. We have spent 11 years and over $7 million in consulting costs to design a 3rd Bridge. There are thousands of pages of reports that have described the design and its various impacts in tremendous detail.
Here, for example, are some quotes from the "Land Use Technical Report" that speak to the design of the 3rd Bridge:
"As was the case for the DEIS, the No Build Alternative and the preferred alternative were DESIGNED assuming that the future (year 2040) peak-hour traffic volumes across the river would be 8 percent less than those forecasted with the SKATS MPO 2040 traffic model.
The DESIGN team included treatments that would discourage traffic on Hickory Street because it is a local neighborhood street now. The DESIGN focuses east-west traffic on Pine Street.
Additional mitigation measures beyond those elements included as part of the DESIGN of the preferred alternative could be integrated into the design of the project at an advanced level of engineering."
At the very end of the video Councilor Nanke throws in a little post-truth politics of his own when he refers to the official funding plan for the 3rd Bridge that includes new tolls taxes and fees as a "worst case scenario." It is not. It's the funding plan.
Are we going to hold our local politicians accountable for not telling the truth or are we going to let them get away with it?
I say, hold them accountable!
We've already got a president-elect Trump who lies constantly. The last thing Salem needs is a Mayor who views truth as optional, and facts as irrelevant.
Last night I emailed Mayor Bennett, asking him if he had a comment on the No 3rd Bridge post. So far Bennett hasn't responded to me. Here's my message.
Chuck/Mayor Bennett, would you like to comment on the No 3rd Bridge Facebook post put up tonight?
The post says you are engaging in “post-truth politics” because at yesterday’s City Council meeting you said there is no design for the Salem River Crossing.
I’m planning to write a blog post about this, so wanted to give you a chance to comment on what the No 3rd Bridge folks are saying. In my, view they’re right, since seemingly there definitely is a bridge design.
Further, this design is the basis of the federal Environmental Impact Statement. How would it be possible to determine how the bridge would impact the environment, if there wasn’t a specific design showing where the bridge would be located, how it would be constructed, and such?
An abstraction, “a new bridge,” doesn’t have a measurable impact, because the bridge could be three inches wide. Or three hundred feet wide. Thus I’m virtually certain that the EIS requires a specific design, specific funding sources, and so on. This is what No 3rd Bridge is saying, and they’ve been deeply involved in this issue for a long time.
I look forward to your response. Did you misspeak, and now wish to correct yourself? Or do you truly believe there is no design for the Salem River Crossing?
Without a reply from Mayor Bennett, it isn't possible to know why he wrongly claimed there is no bridge design. The most likely explanations are:
(1) Bennett is woefully ignorant of the Salem River Crossing planning process.
(2) Bennett is trying to deceive citizens about how the bridge has been designed, and the negative impacts it would have.
Whichever is true, this is a disturbing debut for Salem's new mayor. Ignorant or deceptive are both bad choices when the topic is the most expensive public works project in this town's history.
I have a feeling that Bennett acted as cranky as he did because he is feeling the heat as the Salem River Crossing project heads into deep troubled waters.
An appeal of the City of Salem's expansion of the urban growth boundary to accommodate the Salem River Crossing has been filed by local citizens opposed to the unneeded, unwanted, and unpaid-for bridge. This would be bad enough for backers of the bridge, like Bennett, but the State Department of Land Conservation and Development also has filed a lawsuit against the City of Salem.
It isn't a good legal sign when the agency responsible for enforcing Oregon's land use laws is telling the Land Use Board of Appeals, City officials in Salem screwed up.
And it isn't a good political sign when Salem's Mayor starts out his two-year term of office by saying something demonstrably false in defense of a billion dollar bridge that would be a disaster for this town if it ever came to be built.