Sunday, August 11, 2013

City Council, August 12th - Trees, Streets, Minto Island

The headline today is about the prospect of the City acquiring more land on Minto-Brown from Boise Cascade through a BPA Conservation Program.

But with potentially greater reaches, both the recommendations of the Downtown Mobility Study and the Community Forestry Plan could be more important.

Mobility Study

Union St Bikeway out on 25 year horizon
About the Downtown Mobility Study much has been said.  At the moment it is nice enough, but its recommendations have been watered down and its theoretical timeline is awfully far out.  Is waiting a quarter-century for a Union Street bikeway really reasonable?  That punt seems like the opposite of visionary and forward-thinking.  What could have been a transformative plan for restoring two-way functionality and creating realistic choices for people on bike, is instead more milquetoast and aspirational, a set of concepts for "out there" sometime.

The proposal at Council is limited for the moment:
Staff recommends that Council adopt the Central Salem Mobility Study Recommendations (Attachment A) and direct staff to: (1) seek funding to implement the recommendations, and (2) incorporate the recommendations into the Salem Transportation System Plan at the next amendment opportunity.
Forestry Plan

Trees are often the the public right-of-way, and offer beauty, clean the air, enhance property values.  What's not to like?

Old Oak in one of Salem's older neighborhoods
There's been a lot of talk about trees and the way the City does or does not allow people to cut them down.  So it's probably worth paying more attention to the Community Forestry Strategic Plan. (The copy of it in the staff report is a second- or third-generation copy.  Here's a first-generation pdf.)

If you've reviewed it more closely, are there things especially good or lousy about it?

Minto Brown

The City proposes to acquire a parcel from Boise Cascade next to the Minto bridge and path.  It is independent of the bridge and path and would not affect the bridge and path funding or construction.

From the SJ
Details from the Staff Report:
In 2010, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and the State of Oregon signed the Willamette River Basin Memorandum of Agreement to settle BPA wildlife habitat mitigation obligations in the Willamette Valley. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) opened a solicitation process to identify conservation projects to be recommended to BPA for funding under terms of the agreement. Projects must be located in the Willamette River Basin and must serve to preserve, protect, and perpetuate wildlife and wildlife habitat for the citizens of Oregon.

On April 23, 2012, the City Council authorized the City Manager to apply for a Willamette Valley Wildlife Mitigation Program grant of up to $1.6 million to acquire the Minto-Brown Island property (Attachment B). On May 14, 2012, the Urban Renewal Agency Board authorized the use of up to $35,000 of South Waterfront Urban Renewal Area funds to complete a Yellow Book appraisal and a Level One Environmental Assessment on the property to be used as in-kind funds in order to strengthen the application. On October 22, 2012, ODFW recommended to BPA that the application be funded in the amount of $1,225,000 ($850,000 for acquisition and $375,000 for O&M).

As a portion of the property to be acquired is a former industrial site and in order to protect the City from future liability, staff sought a Prospective Purchaser Agreement (PPA) with the State of Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The PPA resulted in a Consent Judgment from the Circuit Court in the State of Oregon for the County of Marion releasing the City of Salem from any liability to the State of Oregon regarding the release of any existing hazardous substances (Attachment C, Exhibit B).
According to the DEQ report from 2000 included in the Staff Report,
The soil sample analytical results indicate that all site-related chemical constituent concentrations are well below screening level criteria for industrial land use, except for arsenic. The arsenic exceedances are attributed to naturally occurring regional influences since the samples of clarifier sludge material have lower arsenic concentrations than the soil samples collected from areas adjacent to the stabilization ponds. All of the analytical results are below residential soil screening numbers, too, with the exception of arsenic and one dioxin congener, 1,2,3,6,7,8- HxCDD. Total dioxin results for the buried clarifier sludge sample (12 ng/kg), calculated as a toxicity equivalent quotient or TEQ, slightly exceed the ecological screening benchmark value for dioxins (1 0 ng/kg). The potential for exposure to this material is mitigated by the presence of an overlying soil cover, placed in accordance with the 1984 site closure plan....

Boise Cascade intends to retain the property in its current condition for the foreseeable future. Site access is currently limited by a locked and posted gate. There are no residences, industrial facilities or drinking water wells at the site or nearby the site on Minto Island. Potential ecological receptors include birds and animals inhabiting the site, and fish in the adjacent river and slough. Based on the findings of the XP A, there does not appear to be any threat to human health or the environment from this facility. In addition, there is no current justification for listing the site on the CRL.

The'VCP considers the investigation of Boise Cascade's Minto Island property to be complete and recommends that, unless new or previously undisclosed information becomes available that warrants further investigation, DEQ require no further action at the site under ORS 465.200, et. seq
How the heck does a layperson evaluate this?

On the one hand, the DEQ "requires no further action," but that's not exactly a clean bill of health.  The contaminates seem to be "ok" for industrial land uses, but maybe not residential.  So what about park land?  It's probably safe for the limited duration of a stroll, but if you didn't have full faith in the DEQ, who's going to blame you?

On the other hand, the land should be restored, and if not through one of these private-public conservation abatement schemes, how else is it going to happen?  And it's not like the City is going to start building houses there. 

Also interesting:  History!

Attached to the staff report is a survey and title search.  Turns out the island used to be "Pringle Island" before it was "Minto Island."
It was Pringle Island first, part of early DLC!
Here's the GLO survey map from 1852 (not in the staff report).  All kinds of interesting detail is visible, including the fact that the Willamette jumped its bank and created the current course at Minto in one of the 19th century floods - but not, interestingly, the biggest one of 1861.  (If I recall it was the 1881 flood.)

Minto and Salem area, first 1852 General Land Office Survey, UO Library
Click to enlarge!
You can see Lee cemetery and the Parrish claim in upper  right
In lower left you can see an old course of the river, now just a slough
In the upper left, part of Eola Drive looks like a very old road
Also on the agenda is a related proposal to apply for a grant to fund a Conservation Area Habitat Management Plan, estimated to cost $67,419.

Other Stuff

Speaking of history, there's a proposal for "Ordinance Bill No. 25-13 to amend the historic preservation chapter, replacing existing section SRC 230.060, Public Historic Districts, with new sections within Chapter 230 that include historic design review criteria for public historic resources."

Dome Building on North State Hospital Parcel, South facade
This last, the "review criteria for public historic buildings" is apparently the key.  The City's FAQ is not very good, obfuscating with bureaucratic rhetoric more than clarifying.  The Historic Landmarks Commission even has a new blog, even, and they could explain it there. What's the deal?

Fortunately, the Historic Preservation League of Oregon (just newly rebranded as Restore Oregon) has written a letter that seems to explain in plain English why this is useful or even necessary:
The HPLO recognizes that public buildings are often faced with unique challenges for reuse and rehabilitation -not the least of which is the need to minimize unnecessary public expenditures. The proposed code amendments make historic design review more efficient, while still upholding the public's expectations that historic buildings receive adequate regulatory protection.

Salem has a large number of very significant historic public buildings, many of which are in need of rehabilitation and upgrade. As the likelihood of a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake becomes more known to policy-makers and facility planners, we can expect a growing number of seismic retrofit projects to take place in historic public buildings in Salem and elsewhere across Oregon. The proposed code amendments would offer project managers a streamlined regulatory process for implementing these critical rehabilitation projects while also ensuring that the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation are met. [italics added]
The State Capitol building is going to have some $35 million in seismic work done, and presumably this is a significant driver here - not to mention the struggles with preserving the Kirkbride Building at the State Hospital and the forthcoming negotiations on the Dome Building in the north parcel of the State Hosptial grounds.  (It is possible that one reason the official FAQ is not very good is because of the politics, hurt feelings, and poor planning leading up to the original State Hospital demolition.  This code revision arose as part of a demolition mitigation agreement.)

Finally, there is an update on economic development activities including enterprise zones and urban renewal toolbox programs for Fiscal Year 2012-13.  Want to know about the enterprise zone tax abatements and other investment the City uses to help with "job-creation"?  Here you go:
  • Don Pancho Authentic Foods' Enterprise Zone application was approved with an investment of approximately $2.75 million and 30 new jobs.
  • On May 13, 2013, Council approved an extension of the Enterprise Zone property tax abatement to five years for Henningsen Cold Storage's $26 million cold storage facility, as part of the expansion project on the NORPAC site located off of Madrona Avenue SE in southeast Salem. Approximately 30 new jobs, paying $56,059 or 150 percent above Marion County's average annual wage, will result from this investment.
  • On May 28, 2013, Council approved a five-year extension for Hanard Machine in West Salem, which will create 8 to 12 new jobs with an average annual compensation 150 percent above the Marion County average annual wage of $37,373.
  • Also, on May 28, 2013, Council approved a five-year extension for Garmin's approximately $11 million expansion on their Salem Airport site in southeast Salem. Garmin will create a minimum of 70 new jobs with an annual wage 150 percent above the Marion County average annual wage.
  • Diamond Foods' Enterprise Zone application was approved in early June 2013. Expanding at the Kettle Foods site in Salem, Diamond plans to invest more than $2.5 million in a research and development facility, hiring more than five new employees.
  • In mid-June 2013, Settler Supply Company was approved for an investment of $267,000 leading to at least three new employees.
This information isn't exactly shouted from the roof-tops, so it's good to take a moment to look at it and assess whether these are good investments. The toolbox investment information is less detailed, but the program is an important source of small-business loans and grants.


Anonymous said...

Quote from B-on-B: "Is waiting a quarter-century for a Union Street bikeway really reasonable?"

However, the report says that Union @ Commercial signal is in the 10-year list, and Phase 1B to make Union (between Commercial and Winter) into a family-friendly bike facility is in the 15-year list. The section from Winter to Marion on Union is the 25-year list.

I realize you get a thrill by critiquing the city every chance you get. It's a shame that you often do so by misrepresenting the facts.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Please, don't hesitate to point out errors of fact here! I'm happy to make corrections.

On this particular matter, though, we do have a difference in opinion. If a project (which also was at least informally discussed as a "demonstration project") has three parts and the final part is envisioned for completion on a 25-year horizon, it seems like a reasonable simplification to talk about the whole project as having a 25 year horizon. Additionally, the project map (shown in the post) is clearly labeled "long term (within 25 years) transportation improvement recommendations" and the map shows the entire length of Union Street in green for a "family friendly bikeway," not just the shorter third phase segment between Winter and 12th. At least in this context, the project team also seems to consider the whole bikeway as the relevant unit.

Readers will decide for themselves the degree to which there might be misrepresentation here.

You are of course right about the staged recommendations for the three component pieces. Further, the light at Commercial is the single most important piece; and this is, as you rightly say, in the plan on a ten-year horizon.

But even zooming in on this first phase alone, I still would repeat the general point: That waiting 10 years for the light at Commercial should be a planning horizon too long. The connections should been planned and installed essentially concurrent with the bridge opening, and I do fault the City for taking so long to understand that the bridge is not complete without the connections east and west, and I think the mobility study should have aimed at a subset of even more immediate recommendations.

The corresponding connection across Wallace isn't in any plan on any horizon, by the way. (The widening project at Glen Creek and Wallace will make things generally worse, not better for people on foot and on bike.)

The whole discussion of the downtown mobility study can be read here - 18 posts worth - and if you haven't read it hopefully you will find that more nuanced and detailed. Should you find errors of fact, it will be a pleasure to correct them.

Moreover! If you would like to write a counterpoint, signed or even anonymous, about the mobility study, I'd be happy to post that as a guest piece. There's always more to any story, and maybe you know something about it that deserves more air.

Thanks for stopping by!