Observing via CCTV the Salem City Council debate tonight whether to move ahead with the Salem River Crossing, or Third Bridge, felt like I was watching a movie where you know the bad guy is going to be killed at some point, but you know that isn't going to happen until a lot of drama and close calls have built up the suspense.
Like I said yesterday in "Jim Lewis dreams the impossible Third Bridge dream," it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Lewis' motion to have City staff respond to issues raised in a legal setback that remanded (sent back) the Council's 2016 approval of a new bridge was going to fail 5-4.
After all, the five progressive councilors are on record as opposing what I like to call the Billion Dollar Boondoggle. There's no way they were going to break their campaign promises and vote to move forward with the Salem River Crossing project.
(Come January, their numbers will grow to six, when Jackie Leung replaces Steve McCoid on the City Council.)
What I wasn't sure about was whether the strategy of the No 3rd Bridge Five would be to give the Third Bridge the final death that it deserves at this meeting, or whether the death throes of the bridge would be strung out. It turned out to be the latter, since a substitute motion by Tom Andersen was approved after Lewis' motion failed.
Andersen's motion calls for the City Council to hold a work session on the Salem River Crossing in January 2019. Then the consensus seemed to be that either a vote on the legal remand would happen at the next Council meeting, or perhaps in February.
This seems to be a smart move.
If the five progressives had killed the bridge project tonight, that would have looked a lot like a football team running up the score in the fourth quarter when they were already way ahead. Bad form. Tonight lots of people testified in favor of a Third Bridge. Emotions ran high.
So what Tom Andersen and Cara Kaser talked about was having a work session to review all of the materials related to the Salem River Crossing prior to voting whether to address the issues in the remand.
If the City Council votes against addressing those issues, the Third Bridge apparently will be dead -- Lewis said that if the City of Salem doesn't handle the remand issue by September 2019, the project will be shut down, since a draft Environmental Impact Statement needed to move the project forward requires that all approvals be obtained by that time.
(I'm pretty sure the date was September 2019. It might be earlier.)
The January work session will give both supporters and opponents of the Salem River Crossing on the City Council a forum to put forth their best arguments to either keep the project alive, or kill it.
My bet is that it will end up being killed, since opponents have by far the better arguments.
As Kaser pointed out tonight, likely there is a need for another bridge across the Willamette. However, the current Third Bridge plan is for a very expensive regional bridge aimed largely at speeding traffic through Salem to Portland, the coast, and such, rather than a local bridge aimed at reducing rush hour congestion between West Salem and downtown.
And Kaser also observed that Salem residents would be expected to foot most of the bill for a Third Bridge, even though it would be a regional bridge, not a local bridge.
Lewis seemed to see the handwriting on the wall after his motion failed.
Mayor Bennett did his best to put a positive spin on the approval of Andersen's substitute motion, but as the saying goes, this was just putting lipstick on a pig. The No 3rd Bridge Five, who are soon to become the No 3rd Bridge Six, have the power on the City Council.
They will use the January work session to put forward some excellent reasons why the Salem River Crossing project should be killed. Then, at a subsequent City Council meeting, almost certainly it will be.
Lastly, I believe it was Tom Andersen who reminded his fellow city councilors of what happened in December 2016, when five conservative members of the City Council voted to more the project forward by approving an Urban Growth Boundary expansion the month before three newly elected progressives were going to join the Council.
I wrote about this in "Third Bridge sadly staggers on in pathetic City Council meeting." Excerpt:
Tonight five clueless members of the Salem City Council voted to move ahead with the unneeded, unwanted, and unpaid-for Third Bridge, a.k.a. the Salem River Crossing.
...Now, one would think that this City Council meeting would be a joyous occasion for supporters of the Salem River Crossing. It marked a step forward for the Third Bridge. Yet exactly nobody spoke in favor of it at the public hearing (which wasn't very public, because nobody other than city councilors could speak during it).
I saw downcast eyes and morose expressions from the Billion Dollar Boondoggle Five.
City Manager Steve Powers also didn't look very happy, perhaps because I suspect he agrees with much, if not all, of what Councilor Tom Andersen said in his animated six minute explanation of why he was voting NO on the Urban Growth Boundary expansion needed to accommodate the Salem River Crossing bridgeheads.
Below you'll find a video of Andersen's remarks. I urge you to watch it. This was a great example of the proverbial speaking truth to power.
I especially liked his oh-so-true observation that the City Council was rushing to get a vote on the UGB expansion before the end of the year because three newly elected city councilors who are against the Third Bridge, and said so in their campaigns, will take office in 2017.
So the vote tonight was a last gasp attempt by the Chamber of Commerce-backed councilors -- Bennett, McCoid, Nanke, Lewis, Bednarz -- to kiss up to the Powers That Be in this town. They used special interest money to get elected, and they paid back those special interests with their "yes" votes for the Billion Dollar Boondoggle.