Nearly one year later the Corvallis has taken a second up or down vote on taking ownership of the Van Buren Bridge. The result was the same.
Monday night the council voted 5-4 to withdraw its application for the bridge. In October of last year it was a 5-2 vote that expressed the same sentiment. that the council, although clearly divided, did not want to pay $6 million or so to move the bridge..
“Nothing has really changed,” said Ward 9 Councilor Andrew Struthers, who made the motion to withdraw the application. “We have spent so much time on this in the past year. We are spending staff resources every time we discuss this. I think we’re done. We need to withdraw the application and thank ODOT.”
The Oregon Department of Transportation had advised the city via a Sept. 22 letter that its application was not complete. The agency raised four key objections, with the major roadblock being that the city must make “a statement of willingness to accept ownership of the bridge and all future legal and financial responsibility for the bridge.”
ODOT had given the city an Oct. 12 deadline to respond. Monday’s council action appears to be that response, with the upshot being that the long-term status of the bridge remains up in the air. ODOT had established an Aug. 31 deadline for those interested in applying to take ownership. They received just the one application.
ODOT, meanwhile, is spending $72 million on the design and construction of a two-lane replacement bridge, which would include bicycle and pedestrian amenities. Those in the community who wanted to save the bridge hoped to modify it for bike/ped use.
Monday’s vote doesn’t mean the bridge is doomed to be demolished, but it makes that outcome more likely than it was yesterday.
Struthers was joined in the majority vote to stop the process by Charles Maughan (Ward 2), Nancy Wyse (Ward 6), Paul Shaffer (Ward 7) and Ed Junkins (Ward 8). Opposing the motion were Jan Napack (Ward 1), Hyatt Lytle (Ward 3), Barbara Bull (Ward 4) and Charlyn Ellis (Ward 5).
Bull, who has been a tireless champion of exploring avenues that would preserve the bridge, said she thought it was unfortunate that the city was closing the door on other options.
“I don’t want the city to pay for the bridge, but I think that there should be a conversation,” she said. “We need to allow for a conversation to see if a partnership is possible.”
The vote reflected some shifting allegiances from the first one on Oct. 21, 2019 in which Junkins was absent and the Ward 7 seat was vacant after Bill Glassmire resigned for health reasons. Struthers, Wyse and Maughan reaffirmed their yes votes not to take ownership, and Bull and Ellis again voted for preservation efforts.
Lytle and Napack, however, switched from yes to no, with Junkins and Shaffer, who won a special election to replace Glassmire, providing the final two yes votes.
In other meeting highlights:
• The city introduced two interim department heads. City Engineer Greg Gescher, who has been with the city for 27 years, is serving as acting Public Works director. He replaces Mary Steckel, who left last Friday. Andy Parks, who has taken on a series of interim assignments in the past 20 years, is the interim chief of the Finance Department. Nancy Brewer, who held the position since 1993, left last Wednesday and started Monday as interim city manager in Lebanon.
• Councilors voted unanimously to approve a minor annexation of a piece of property on Southwest 45th Street. The application was driven by the septic systems challenges the property owner was facing. Approval of the annexation means the property can be hooked up to city utilities unless the decision is appealed.
• Four residents spoke during the community comments section of the remote meeting. Two expressed concerns about the challenge of illegal camping. Two others spoke about the bridge.