While Salem City Council is charged with developing “the policies that will direct the operation of the city,” some feel this body has a responsibility to express its position on matters of wider consequence.

Residents opposed to open-topped coal trains passing through Salem on the way south to the Port of Coos Bay, for example, hope Salem City Council will make a statement on the matter, despite the fact the gesture will carry no legal weight.

The ultimate decision on coal exports will not even be made by state governors, yet Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber has requested that a regional analysis, an environmental impact statement (EIS) be done before important decisions are made.  City councils in Eugene, Milwaukie and Portland have publically stated opposition about coal train exports through Oregon communities.

For example, the Milwaukie City Council passed a resolution in October (to a standing ovation) that coal trains running through the city were incompatible with city efforts to improve air quality and public health.  Like Salem, Milwaukie is an Oregon town through which coal trains would pass on the way to Coos Bay.

In contrast, when Ward 5 City Councilor Diana Dickey presented a letter to Salem City Council in January, to simply “affirm [its] support of the Governor’s call for federal agencies to examine the impacts of coal exports to Asia,” the matter was stopped in its tracks.

Dickey’s letter, drafted with Salem’s Deputy City Manager, Kacey Duncan, did not ask the Council to take a position for or against coal trains, but only to support asking for more information by standing behind Kitzhaber’s EIS request.

The letter, returned for redrafting, is now being re-written by Mayor Anna Peterson and Duncan, and will be re-presented at a future Council meeting by Peterson herself.
CityWatch, a Salem group which advocates to put citizen interests ahead of special interests, recently decided to contact the City Council and Mayor to recommend the City endorse the governor’s request for an EIS.
According to CityWatch member and former City Councilperson Kasia Quillinan, the group has concerns with potential coal issues including, “health, environment, safety,” and welcomes a regional study that might provide “unbiased facts upon which a reasoned decision concerning the coal trains could be made.”

On March 1,  Duncan said he has been working closely with Peterson on the revised letter, though he added, “because the letter has not been finalized, it would be premature to comment on the nature of changes.”

The presentation of the new document has not been docketed for a specific City Council meeting.

According to Duncan, the Mayor will be representing Salem out of town on March 11, so the next opportunity for her to present a revised letter at a City Council meeting will be March 25.