One of the most wasteful, harmful, unnecessary projects in Salem’s history will be ‘greenlighted’ in a few weeks, say local observers that include a leader of the ‘NO 3rd Bridge’ group, Jim Sheppke.
With little public notice and little public knowledge, the hearing on October 12 will likely mean a swift city council endorsement of the largest and most expensive public works project ever planned in Salem.
“The mayor has the votes on the Salem City Council, so the public hearing is meaningless,” Sheppke says.
The vote will give a go-ahead to burden taxpayers and the ecological jewel that is the Willamette River with an additional “3rd Bridge” across the Willamette River between Salem and West Salem – uninfluenced by traffic statistics showing bridge traffic has decreased for years.
Mayor Anna Peterson’s support for the project was evident at the public comment period on August 8th. At that time, she did not even allow the Council to ask questions of the two dozen citizens who testified against the bridge.
The project is estimated to cost nearly a half billion dollars, and may have to be paid for with tolls on the Marion and Center Street bridges, as well as on the new bridge, and new gas taxes and a vehicle registration surcharge.
As this paper went to press, the October 12 public hearing – which begins at 6 pm at Center 50+ in North Salem – has not even been announced on the Salem River Crossing website or the City of Salem website.
Additionally, no notice has been given to the 55 households and 65 business that are in the path of the bridge and would be “displaced” according to recent reports that NO 3rd Bridge obtained through a public records request to ODOT.
“The Mayor wants it that way,” says Scheppke.
The players appear to be conducting themselves just within the law in order to shield themselves from civil action. After the October 12th hearing, the council is expected to move swiftly to add the 3rd Bridge, officially called the Salem River Crossing Preferred Alternative, to the Salem Transportation System Plan and the Salem Comprehensive Plan, and to initiate the process of adding the footprint of the bridge to the Salem-Keizer Urban Growth Boundary.
Only two Salem City Councilors, Tom Andersen and Diana Dickey, opposed moving forward with the public hearing and land use actions at a Council meeting on August 8th, after hearing from about two dozen citizens opposed to the plan. Andersen has long opposed the 3rd Bridge as unnecessary and too expensive, and Dickey is unhappy that the “Salem Alternative” bridge plan that the City Council approved in June of 2013 has been altered significantly since that time and is not the same as the “Preferred Alternative” now moving forward.
The City has issued an official “Notice which indicates that a staff report on the “Preferred Alternative” will be made available only 7 days before the hearing.
The Salem Breakfast on Bikes blogger in a recent post called it “public participation theater.” “Even if … the Salem River Crossing team has still been fulfilling the minimum of legal requirements for disclosure prior to a Public Hearing, as a statement of public-minded interest, it is a sham and a sign of disrespect. It is totally reflective of commitments to a pre-determined conclusion,” he wrote.
Scheppke urges citizens to come to the public hearing and let the Council know about their unhappiness with what NO 3rd Bridge characterizes as, an “authoritarian and undemocratic” process.