Sunday, May 24, 2020

SKATS Ignored Public on Goal 7 and GHG Reduction. Tell Federal Regulators about That

The Policy Committee for our local MPO, SKATS, convenes on Tuesday the 26th by phone, and their main item is a Public Hearing and formal adoption of the 2021-2026 project list, the TIP.

This is mainly a formality, but it's nice to see that non-auto transport has the most support. (See note at very bottom.)

More interesting is formal review next month, in June, by Federal agencies "to assess compliance with Federal regulations pertaining to the transportation planning process" at the MPO.

Notice from the Feds
They are soliciting comments, which can be sent by June 18th to
Jasmine Marie Harris, Transportation Planner
Federal Highway Administration, Oregon Division
530 Center St. NE, Suite 420
Salem, OR 97301


Jeremy Borrego, Transportation Program Specialist
Federal Transit Administration, Region 10
915 Second Ave., Suite 3142
Seattle, WA 98174
Specifically, one of the deficiencies that the Feds identified regarded public participation.

The formal Notice from the Feds
about deficiencies in public participation
Back in April, Kathy Lincoln, a former board member of Cherriots, who had sat on the SKATS Policy Committee during her tenure with Cherriots, and who is herself a lawyer, and someone familiar with regulatory requirements, suggested that SKATS was not in fact fully responsive to public comment. Here's how SKATS summarized it:

Summary from April
You might recall back in April of 2018, greenhouse gas reduction and a stronger Goal 7 was far more popular any "build it now" sentiment for the SRC. Yet the MPO largely ignored calls for a stronger Goal 7 and did as little with it as possible. Later, in pressing Salem City Council for a new Hearing on the SRC after the LUBA remand, they showed they were far more responsive to interest in the SRC than to interest in greenhouse gas reduction.

GHG reduction more popular than SRC (April 2018)
The specific comments from Lincoln as submitted were about the MPO meeting the letter of the law, but flouting its spirit. As I read it, she is alluding specifically to requests for a stronger Goal 7 and for work on greenhouse gas reduction. Comments and the people who deliver them were "pretty much ignored."

Public Comment with concerns about ignoring public
To this April comment on public participation, the response from SKATS avoided the substantive matter, and instead hid behind the procedural fig leaf of public process. Much of the Feds complaint is about process, it's true, but the second point about the "disposition of comments" is relevant. SKATS didn't say very much about why they were ignoring calls for a stronger Goal 7.

SKATS response mostly about procedure
From the response:
SKATS received public comments during the plan’s development ...[and] between March 2018 and April 2019 the Policy Committee had discussions about the RTSP Goals at six (6) meetings, three of which had comments from members of the public attending the meeting.... Based on development of draft RTSP, discussions held during multiple Policy Committee meetings, and public input during development and the formal public comment period, the Policy Committee adopted the 2019-2043 RTSP on May 28, 2019.
To my eye this exemplifies a particular approach to public comment. It is organized to operate like kitty litter: To attract dissent and critique, to neutralize it, and to clump it for easy disposal.

They say, "Look, we had lots of public comment and opportunity for public comment!" Maybe it turns on whether you think that a "demonstration of how the explicit processes and procedures identified in the PPP were followed and a summary that characterizes the extent to which public comments influenced MTP and TIP development" requires the demonstration and summary to engage the substance of public comment, or whether it can address the process only and say "we listened." The latter is what SKATS' response embraces, but it would be more satisfying to have a longer discussion of why SKATS continues to prefer massive bridge and highway building to greenhouse gas reduction.

More specifically at this moment, for the 2021 TIP there is a summary of public comment, and while there might not be a project to reject or a new project to include at this particular moment, there is also no indication that the comment might make a difference in the future. The substance of the comment is merely registered and "no changes" the very brief recommendation. Rubber-stamping is the order. But in another universe a response could be, even without committing to any specific change, something like, "we have been surprised at the popularity of walking, biking, transit, and greenhouse gas reduction, and the unpopularity of interstate highway expansion, and we will consider a course-correction."

Here's an example of comment registered as part of process
but not really absorbed or very deeply considered.
(2021 TIP summary and Staff Report)
So it seems to me that submitting formal comment or complaint to the Federal regulators, Harris and Borrego, might help secure greater attention from SKATS for work and policy on greenhouse gas reduction and other important 21st century concerns. Even if ODOT and the Feds in August of 2018 believed that SKATS had met Correction Action 4 with a revised Public Participation Plan, it does not seem that SKATS is always interested in observing the spirit and intent of it.

If you submitted comment and feel like any response from SKATS was inadequate, it might be helpful to detail that in a note to Harris and Borrego (see addresses above).

The Policy Committee meets by teleconference at noon on Tuesday the 26th.  Here are directions to join the meeting:

SKATS remains interested in the science against the virus
but is not very interested in the science on greenhouse gases
Meeting agenda and packet, and full 2021 TIP here.

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