Image by OregonDOT via FlickrThe future of Minto Brown Island as a public park is on the table at a public hearing at City Hall at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, July 27.
The paper calls this a proposal for "federal park funds" but, in truth, the proposal is all about spending "stimulus" money as fast as possible, which is why the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in the US Dept. of Agriculture rejected the small plot at Battle Creek and instead asked the City to offer some much bigger chunks of land. (The fact that Battle Creek is privately owned is not controlling; the grants are from a fund that is used to get easements on private lands all the time -- in fact, the standard easement sale contract that NRCS gave the city presumes it's a private landowner ... the city is the odd duck for trying to give control of city park land to the feds.)
In other words, the federal folks are simply looking to get deals signed as fast as possible in order to be able to report that they've "created jobs" as part of the federal activity around the "stimulus" package. Essentially they grabbed a floodplain easement program intended for use along the banks of the big rivers (Missouri, Mississippi, etc.) to reduce federal flood damage payments and are trying to use it to shovel money out.
SOP so far -- except that the (a) there are never any damage claims for flooding on Minto;
(b) the flooding benefits Minto by refreshing and remineralizing the soil;
(c) the feds are terrible landlords and partners because their funding is so inconsistent (see Mt. St. Helens, where the same US Dept. of Ag has closed one of two observation stations). Partnering with the feds is like subleasing your apartment to the football team -- they do whatever they want and don't necessarily listen real well.
(d) the feds would only pay for upkeep of the "conserved" land for three years -- after that, all costs to maintain this land (maintenance we now get for free from a farmer who tends the land) will fall to us -- and you can see how strapped Salem is for funds.
(e) the easements would prohibit even fully organic farming or community gardens -- including on some of the best, highest, driest ground in the whole park! Some use of "emergency flood relief" funds.
Read why the Salem Parks and Recreation Advisory Board unanimously resolved that the City should reject the staff proposal and learn what the SPRAB thinks the city should do instead. Links to prior posts on this topic there as well.
Please come and speak up for your park. Tell the City Council to adopt the recommendations of the SPRAB:
* reject the staff proposal to take 200 acres out of productive local agricultural use
* put the farming on the island out for competitive bidding
* revise the park master plan.
We can't afford to trade control of our unique urban park with its long history of agricultural use for a quick hit of borrowed federal dollars.