In notices published on June 28 and July 12, the Federal Highway Administration and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) requested citizen feedback on potential impacts the proposed 3rd Bridge across the Willamette River would have on local natural areas.

Critics describe the notices as “very flawed” and say they gravely misrepresent and under represent effects of the proposed Salem River Crossing (SRC) on the community’s natural environment.

The second notice gave no detail on potential impacts at all; except for an accommodation for Spanish-speakers it provided no link to any resource that would provide citizens with even nominal understanding.

Public comments are due to ODOT by July 28.

An old map of Wallace Marine Park, made prior to the Glen Creek Trail for bikes and pedestrians, and the Union Street Bridge bike/ped trail.
This is the map used when it was determined there would be “de minimum” impact.

The notice

ODOT is requesting to know how citizens feel about the way a third bridge would effect Wallace Marine Park, Wallace Natural Area and the Willamette River Water Trail.

If the SRC bridge and related road systems were built these areas would be impacted by concrete bridge piers on land, in the river and on an island, by an expanded road and embankments, by columns and landfill to support an elevated path and by the installation of a storm water treatment facility.

The notices pre-characterize the impacts as “de minimus,” which is a legal term meaning trivial or minimal.

In this current map, both the Glen Creek Trail and the Union Street Bridge paths are visible.

Description of impacts as “minimal” appear to be based, in part, on obsolete maps used by Salem River Crossing consultants that don’t include significant features created in recent years; the Glen Creek Trail and the trail flowing into Minto Brown Park at the west end of the Union Street Bridge.

Both trails are much-used daily by thousands of pedestrians and cyclists and constitute marked changes in pubic use.

No visual support

Few in Salem are familiar with the exact size and location of the natural resources referred to in the notice or the way the SRC would impact them. Yet the first notice did not provide a single map or photograph that would allow citizens to visualize the issues, and the second did not provide a link, except for the one noted above, for Spanish speakers, to provide even a basic description.

“For example, the location of the very popular Glen Creek Trail relative to the impact area in Wallace Marine Park is not mentioned in the public notice,” says Jim Scheppke,* longtime 3rd Bridge opponent, “and there is no map that shows the location of the trail relative to the impact area.”

Linda Bierly is a member of the Glenn and Gibson Creek Watershed Council

Wallace Marine Park

Robert Cortright, retired transportation and land use analyst, says the notice objectively underrepresents the impacts of the bridge project. He objects to wording in the first notice that the impact in Wallace Marine Park would be on a “thin strip of land” with “no existing … recreational amenities or features. “ 

The statement is factually incorrect, Cortright says. The narrow “strip” mentioned would either run right beside the Glen Creek Trail – or absorb it.

Linda Bierly, a biologist, board member of the Salem Parks Foundation and member of the Glenn and Gibson Creeks Watershed Council, says the 3rd Bridge would “violate conservation values of clean air, clean water and habitat” in Wallace Marine Park and the other natural areas.

Bierly is concerned that the areas consumed by construction “are taken from the part of Wallace Marine Park and Wallace Natural area with the highest habitat value – the tallest trees, the most undisturbed areas of the park.”

Herself familiar with the area, Bierly says, “the corridor will be impacted both immediately by construction, but [also] forever by the presence of a freeway and road system, the hardscape of the bridge and piers … with attendant noise and pollution.”

Union Street Bridge

Wallace Marine Park is the western terminus of the Union Street Railroad Pedestrian and Bicycle Trail, commonly known as the Union Street Bridge. The ‘Trail’ is a key access to and from West Salem and Wallace Marine Park. Though the public notices make no mention of impacts on this ‘Trail’ and the ramps that lead down to the park on the west end of the Union Street Bridge – there is no question that it would be significantly impacted.

The October 5, 2016 memorandum “Salem River Crossing Project Final Section 4(f) Evaluation: Draft Finding for Park/Recreation Resources” – states that flyover ramps from Marine Drive to OR 20 would pass over the ‘trail’ for approximately 150 feet at an elevation of only 10 to 15 feet of vertical clearance.

“The noise, air pollution, and visual pollution that will result from these ramps will render the trail extremely unattractive,” says Scheppke. “This, in turn, will depreciate the large investment that Salem has made in the Union Street Railroad Bridge, not to mention the network of other bike and pedestrian trails in Salem, such as the new $10 million Minto Island Bridge.”

Bridge impact would be right alongside popular Glen Creek Trail, shown here

Wallace Natural Area

Six bridge piers would be installed on 1.62 acres in the northern panhandle of the Wallace Natural Area. The land would have an elevated bridge structure passing above it. The first notice suggests that disturbance to the area would be minimal, with language like, “no impacts to any recreational activities” because the land is “undeveloped.”

Critics of the notices say a “de minimus” determination on Wallace Natural Area doesn’t stand up. The Salem Comprehensive Park Master Plan Update describes multiple outdoor activities in the area; the placement of six 6’ by 18’ concrete piers to support an elevated highway, with the consequent air pollution and noise seem more than ‘minimally’ impactful to bird watchers or naturalists like Bierly, who find the notices misleading.

Additionally, Bierly says, in construction projects like the SRC, “Losses go beyond the acreage mentioned… Much of the importance of urban natural areas is their size and the degree of buffering that surrounds them. The greater the size and the buffer around them, the higher the value. Wallace Natural Area is one of the largest in the city of Salem, and because it is beside the Willamette River, one of the most important.”

Bridge impact would be right beneath where this photo was taken

Willamette River Water Trail

This is the name given to the 217-mile water corridor of the Willamette River as it flows from Creswell to St. Helens, OR.

A 3rd Bridge would add four piers to the river itself, and two piers to McLane Island in the middle of the river.

ODOT’s notices repeatedly suggest that any impact of the project on the river would be trivial, with wording like, “no impacts to any recreational watercraft,” and, “piers will not inhibit the ability of non-motorized watercraft users.”

This representation is acutely questioned by critics of the notices. They point to McLane Island, a state park land which contains a significant great blue heron rookery. The rookery, enjoyed by bird watchers and other recreational users of the island, would be compromised – and probably lost – by the two 6’ x 18’ piers installed permanently on McLane island. Other species might also be lost, including eagles and other raptors.

The island is owned by Oregon State Parks “and is used for picnicking and camping by recreational non-motorized boaters on the river,” says Scheppke. “Putting two 6’ by 18’ concrete piers in the island and running a major highway overhead with attendant noise, air pollution and visual pollution would destroy the use of the island for recreation.” He says the Public Notice’s statement that there would be no adverse effects on recreation on McLane Island “is simply false.”

The vulnerability of the three resources

Bierly is mystified by the determination of the bridge project as having “de minimus” impacts on the park, the natural area and the water trail. “This project not only depletes the actual park and natural area, but introduces a highway right through the heart of the most important part of any natural area, the riparian corridor,” she says. A healthy riparian corridor protects water quality, she argues, and “it provides clean air, it captures and filters storm water and provides habitat for the entire array of aquatic, avian, amphibian and terrestrial creatures.”

How to comment

Public remarks are limited to the effects of a 3rd Bridge on Wallace Marine Park, Wallace Marine Natural Area and The Willamette River Water Trail. Comments may be sent to Anna.Henson@odot.state.or.us by July 28.

*Scheppke is a member of Salem Weekly’s Editorial Board