Friday, July 24, 2009

Federal money City of Salem staff should pursue

"I saw the dollar signs, man" at San...Image by Trig's via Flickr

One of the most frustrating things about the whole misguided effort to permanently (as in forever) lock up rare and productive agricultural acreage within the Salem urban growth boundary on Minto-Brown Island is that it was totally random, spur-of-the-moment lunge in an entirely new direction for the park, prompted only by the promise of some fast cash (borrowed money).

Salem originally went to the feds seeking money for an easement at Battle Creek, not Minto. It was the feds in Portland -- people with no knowledge of Salem or concern for its needs -- who came back with "No, but what about Minto?" (The feds want the biggest chunks of acreage because that's easier for them to administer.)

City staff, instead of consulting the Master Plan for Minto and saying "Well, gee, there's nothing in here about wanting to reduce agriculture in the park, I don't think we're interested," entered into discussions with the feds about just how much acreage to turn over to federal control. No notice to the public about this huge change in direction for the park, no discussion with the city council (the thing was hidden in the Council's consent agenda until a citizen happened to inquire about farming on the island and learned that there was this proposal being fast-tracked to chase these "stimulus" dollars).

Meanwhile, there's a river of federal stimulus dollars flowing into Portland for energy conservation work, work that Salem desperately needs. Getting a lot more of this kind of stimulus money is what city staff should be focused on--improving the energy efficiency of all structures in the city, because money sent out of town for energy leaves forever. Whereas money spent on weatherization and solarizing buildings not only creates jobs here but permanently improves our economy. Salem's small energy efficiency award ($1.5M) is just a drop in the bucket of need down here.
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