9/10/2013 11:47:00 AM Paved trail headed for public meeting
By John Griffith
After a summer of contentious public discourse, organizations involved decided Tuesday, September 3, that Sisters Park and Recreation District (SPRD) will host an open public meeting to "clear the air" and separate fact from rumor on the issue of building a paved trail through the woods between Black Butte Ranch and Sisters as proposed by the Sisters Ranger District and the Sisters Trails Alliance (STA).
STA is a partner organization of Sisters Park & Recreation District (SPRD).
Darren Layne, SPRD chairperson, committed SPRD to host the public meeting in mid-October. Layne intends to arrange for a neutral third-party facilitator to conduct the meeting.
The decision to hold a public meeting came at the conclusion of a two-hour private meeting held by District Ranger Kristie Miller from
2 to 4 p.m. Tuesday at the Sisters fire hall.
Once of the sore points on the project is the perception of many local residents that proponents did not do sufficient public outreach. Residents of Crossroads in particular objected to lack of communication on the proposal, which includes trails near that neighborhood.
"We made a mistake," said Miller a number of times during the meeting when pressed about why Crossroads residents were not "scoped" (surveyed) as part of the required project outreach before the grant application could be submitted. Tollgate and Buck Run residents were scoped.
The project scoping letter opens a 30-day comment period. Only those who make comments during that period can have input later on or mount an appeal to any subsequent decisions on the project. The open comment period was also "noticed" in the Deschutes Forest paper of record, The Bend Bulletin. The notice appeared for one day as required.
"We made a mistake," said Miller, "We normally place such notices in The Nugget as well as a matter of courtesy to our local residents. That didn't happen. I don't know why."
Attendance at the Tuesday meeting was to be by invitation only. Miller invited a single representative from each of the public and private groups that had expressed support for the proposed trail. Other uninvited guests showed up for the meeting including critics of the project and The Nugget. All those that showed up were allowed to participate in the meeting.
The discussions were often tense, but remained courteous.
Maintaining the solitude that they moved to woods to enjoy is the stated goal of some Crossroads and Tollgate residents.
There are a number of details about the trail that are in contention. The stated need for the trail has been challenged. The route of the trail has been in dispute. The cost estimates for the trail's construction have been widely and wildly misstated.
Also in heated dispute are the methods and data used to justify the formal written letters of support for the trail project submitted by the various agencies. These letters were used in the justification of the grant submission.
The City of Sisters, the Sisters School Board, the homeowner associations of both Tollgate and Crossroads, and the SPRD board have all given letters of support for the project, though there has been some contention and confusion as to what SPRD has actually committed to. STA has committed to support the ongoing maintenance of the trails by way of their signature on the Forest Service grant application. STA has, however, no independent ability to commit funds, since they operate under the SPRD umbrella.
As a direct result of this controversy, and in an effort to keep the project on the list for grant funding, the project has been broken into two distinct phases.
In Phase One the Forest Service would pave the existing Tollgate-to-Sisters High School trail. They would also build and pave a new trail from Crossroads to Sisters High School.
There has been little controversy over the Phase One proposal other than how and where the trail connects to Crossroads. The Phase One trail stops at the southeastern corner of the subdivision.
The comment period was "noticed" on August 9, 2012. There were no comments so Miller signed off on Phase One September 10, 2012. The new Forest Service trails to Crossroads have been built, but not yet paved. Current funds for the project have been exhausted.
District Ranger Miller said, "I want to listen to what people say (in the public meeting). I can 'unsign' the order (on Phase One). It wouldn't be easy to do, so there would have to be a pretty compelling argument, but I would be willing to do something different."
STA will be responsible for the financing and construction of the continuation of the paved trail inside the Crossroads development. Currently the trail is proposed to run to the western border of the subdivision. Contrary to the rumors, the Phase One trail to and through Crossroads does not connect directly to the Phase Two trail, and it will not bring "through traffic" into the subdivision.
Phase Two of the project includes several contentious issues.
Phase Two of the USFS/STA project involves building a paved trail through the woods exclusively on National Forest land, starting at the BBR property line and running between Tollgate and Highway 20 ultimately connecting to the Phase One Tollgate-to-Sisters High School trail. The route of the connector trail was not shown on the maps presented at the meeting.
The required environmental (EA) analysis for Phase Two was stalled due to the overload on the Forest Service caused by the Pole Creek Fire. There are some 60-plus comments concerning the Phase Two project. The process of reviewing and responding to these comments will restart again soon, Miler reported.
The Phase Two trail does not enter Tollgate; it skirts the northern and western corners of the Tollgate property at a distance of at least 120 yards from the property line of the homes on the east side of the subdivision. Again, contrary to rumor, users of the Black Butte Ranch to Sisters paved trail would not be routed through the Tollgate subdivision or onto Tollgate's existing bike-ped trail system.
Other factors in dispute involve notification of stakeholders, the basis for the letters of support, and a significant disconnect between the $800,000 project cost figure cited by the STA in a presentation to the SPRD board, and the estimated project cost of $2.8 million that was included in the Forest Service grant bid that was signed off by the USFS and STA more than a week earlier.
It is hoped that an open public airing of these issues, clarification of the facts and the dispelling of the rumors will lead to a clear and final decision on final design of Phase One and the building of Phase Two.
Miller explained that for a federal agency to call a "public meeting" involves a great deal of red tape and significant advance notice. Hence she called a private meeting to get all the supporters on one page. SPRD will host the October public meeting and invite Miller and her key staff as speakers to avoid the federal red tape.