Sunday, November 28, 2010

Kris Gorsuch Writes to Support Minto Bridge in SJ

In today's Statesman-Journal, F2B member Kris Gorsuch writes a counterpoint to the Captain of the Willamette Queen, who says that
A low clearance pedestrian bridge would eliminate our ability to offer cruises for almost a third of each year, which would undoubtedly force us out of business.

In response Kris says:
On Dec. 6 the Salem City Council will close the hearing on the proposed pedestrian bridge across the Willamette River slough from Riverfront Park to Minto Island Park.

The proposed bridge will connect 1,300 acres in three downtown parks and 26 miles of off-street trails. The bridge will be wide enough for emergency vehicles.

Currently, the only access to Minto is a 45 mph road without bike paths or sidewalks and which crosses the railroad tracks.

The bridge has been part of Salem's planning process for 30 years. It's in the Parks Master Plan, Transportation Plan, Downtown and South Riverfront Urban Renewal Plans and the Salem 2020 Plan. It's a council "goal." In 2009, the city held 17 forums on the proposed bridge. The community response was a staggering 91 percent in favor and 3 percent opposed.

The economic impact of linking these parks is enormous. Numerous businesses would benefit, as would the Salem Conference Center and hotel. The bridge would also stimulate the downtown housing projects. It will take about three years for design and permitting. A Coast Guard permit is also required because the slough has one commercial user, the Willamette Queen sternwheeler.

The hearing addressed two bridge designs: low and high. Numerous individuals and organizations recommended the "low bridge." In 2006, the council held similar hearings and supported the low design. Now that the city has acquired the easement from Boise to land the bridge on the island, it has become a priority.

The impediment to the low bridge is the Willamette Queen. The low bridge would impair its navigation on the slough during winter high water but accommodates all other watercraft using the slough. In a December, 2007 article in the Statesman Journal, the captain "vowed to fight the project."

I support the low bridge because of lower cost and reduced impact. The "high bridge" is nearly three times as long and costs almost $6 million more than the low design. The catastrophic impact on the parks from the high bridge is irreparable and the added cost is irresponsible. Community surveys said 76 percent favored the lowest cost option and only 7 percent felt that preserving passage to the Willamette Queen was of "high" importance.

I hope a reasonable settlement based on verifiable economic loss and ship manifests can be made soon. Currently, the Willamette Queen is moored at a city dock. In a December, 2007 Statesman Journal article, the captain stated, "I've got an open invitation from the city of Newberg and the city of Lake Oswego to moor the boat right there at their city docks."

If a reasonable settlement can't be reached soon, then maybe the best solution for everyone is for the Willamette Queen to "cast off lines," the city agree to cancel the lease and immediately proceed with the permitting process for the low bridge design.