I agree with the Salem Breakfast on Bikes blogger who said Something's amiss here in a Tuesday post that is more interesting than the title portends, "At the MPO: Work Program and Rule-Making Updates for the TAC." Here's the juicy part of the post.
The Technical Advisory Committee for our Metropolitan Planning Organization meets today, and there is no important action item.
But the agenda does have a couple of other things to note.
Work on the formal Work Program continues, and if there is any sign that the remand by LUBA on the land use matters had any real consequences, I'm still not seeing them. On the SRC it says:
"The final planning work on the Salem River Crossing Study EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) should be concluded in 2018. The lead agencies for the EIS are ODOT and city of Salem with SKATS staff on the project management team. As of December 2017, many of the technical sections of the FEIS were going through their final review; the City of Salem and Polk County are coordinating on the land use and Urban Growth Boundary issues with the state. SKATS staff will continue to coordinate with ODOT, the jurisdictions in SKATS, FHWA, and FTA on any needed planning work before and after the FEIS and Record of Decision (ROD)."
What the heck does "the City of Salem and Polk County are coordinating on the land use and Urban Growth Boundary issues with the state" mean? That sounds like a sneaky work around!
There's nothing to coordinate until the City holds a new set of hearings! But apparently the LUBA decision is not very consequential, and there seemingly is much to coordinate.
Something's amiss here.
Agreed. But what exactly is amiss, and why? I'm pleased to speculate on these questions. Back in November I said this in a post called "Ding, dong, the Third Bridge is dead."
Regarding the draft Environmental Impact Statement, approval of it is a must if the Salem River Crossing project is to move forward. But this can't happen, since the Land Use Board of Appeals remanded the City Council's approval of an Urban Growth Boundary expansion needed for construction of a new bridge, thereby negating the original approval.
I asked Bob Cortright, an expert in land use matters related to transportation and an opponent of the Third Bridge, if the Urban Growth Boundary expansion had to be accomplished before an Environmental Impact Statement could be approved. Yes, Cortright said, it does.
So there are two seemingly contradictory facts at work here:
(1) Local transportation planners, including staff at the City of Salem, are busily working away on an Environmental Impact Statement for the Third Bridge that they apparently think will be finalized in 2018; (2) an adverse legal ruling by the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) means that an expansion of Salem's Urban Growth Boundary needed for a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) can't happen unless a City Council majority agree to deal with issues in the LUBA decision.
What's peculiar is that City of Salem staff are continuing to work on the draft Environmental Impact Statement even though the Third Bridge project no longer has the backing of a City Council majority.
Well, let's back up a bit.
This would be peculiar in a city like Portland that has a strong City Council where councilors actually manage City departments, such as Public Works.
But Salem has a strong City Manager/weak City Council form of governance. Thus Steve Powers, the City Manager, apparently has given his go-ahead for staff to continue working on the Third Bridge project even though five of the nine City Council members are opposed to this.
Though I hate to use a Trumpian term, this is sort of a "deep state" situation.
Meaning, City of Salem staff (along with Mayor Chuck Bennett) are committed to the Salem River Crossing/Third Bridge project. They're continuing to work on the draft Environmental Impact Statement even though several recent 5-4 City Council votes have made it clear that the Third Bridge doesn't command majority support on the Council.
Now, seemingly this would be dangerous for City Manager Powers, since he serves at the pleasure of the City Council. And five of the nine council members wouldn't be pleased to know that City of Salem staff are doing their best to keep the Third Bridge project moving forward.
The reason I added seemingly is this: so far the five progressive councilors haven't thrown their political weight around to the degree they could, and perhaps should, when it comes to the Third Bridge. I alluded to this in the above-mentioned post about the City Council taking steps to relieve rush hour congestion without a new bridge.
Watching the City Council meeting on my laptop via the CCTV feed, I had the feeling that this was one of those times where a lot is not being said, even though many words were spoken.
My suspicion is that the Third Bridge supporters on the Council still hold out hope that future elections will change the composition of the nine-member City Council (which now has five progressives, all opposed to a Third Bridge) and the bridge can get back on track, but they didn’t want to say this explicitly, while the Third Bridge opponents on the council were being careful to not gloat about the bridge being blocked to avoid bad feelings.
Back then I thought this subtlety on the part of the five progressives made sense, in part because Third Bridge supporters want to take back a City Council majority and not making this a more public issue than it already is seemed like good political sense.
However, the downside is that City Manager Powers and other City of Salem staff haven't gotten a clear message from the City Council to stop putting any more time, money, and effort into the Environmental Impact Statement for the Salem River Crossing.
Maybe the time is right for this to happen.
As the Breakfast on Bikes blogger said, Something's amiss here.
Given that the Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Bennett, and other card-carrying members of the Powers That Be club here in Salem strongly back a Third Bridge, there's little doubt that a bunch of scheming to keep the bridge project alive is happening outside of public view.
So the five progressives on the City Council should make their view crystal clear via a Council motion directed squarely at City of Salem staff: no more work shall be put in on the Third Bridge project, and no more money shall be spent on it.
Stop with the "coordinating." Just stop. Now.