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Day: June 10, 2010

IN THE RING: Under what circumstances would you support criminal charges for some BP executives?

Art Bobrowitz, Compass Rose Consulting:
“Should BP executives be held accountable? Yes. In this case the criminal and civil probe will have deep implications. The media is reporting that several months earlier this same oil rig was given a safety award. How did that happen? That thought is troubling.

“The related question that needs to be asked is how much money the federal government will make off this one incident? I also read where Senate Democrats are planning to tax oil companies and create an oil spill liability fund. They want to raise $15 billion over the coming decade in case we have another catastrophic spill in the Gulf.

“The bottom line is three steps need to be taken. First if you can prove negligence, file charges for the negligent operation of the platform. Second, file charges against the industry lobbyists for the wasteful campaign contribution that did nothing to help stop this scenario from happening in the first place.  And third, every time you pull into a gas station and take out your wallet you can thank your congressman for showing you 15 billion different ways you too can be outraged.”

Warren Franklin, KYKN radio personality:
“This is a complicated matter.  Is BP guilty of criminal activities related to the oil leak?  I’m sure there will be an investigation.  What is most important in my mind is getting this mess cleaned up.  Then we can assess blame.   And, while we are assessing blame lets look at those who force corporations like BP to drill so far out in the ocean a mile or more down.  Let’s examine whether BP had an emergency plan to fix a problem like this.  Lets look at our government and assess what kind of emergency plan it had in place.  There are many to point fingers at if that is what you want to do.  I would argue that drilling so far out in the ocean is far more dangerous than drilling off shore or on land.  We have to rethink how we look at drilling for oil in the future.”

Phil Bay, retired insurance agent and former city councilor:
“What good would it do?  Would it change the picture after the fact?  Of course not.  Much more history than you and I have as to negligent management of oil platforms will be needed if any charges are leveled against BP.  Mostly, all of want it fixed and that must be now not in six or eight months.  The big question is will they pony up the resources and the money to clean it up, which will be in the billions, I am certain.”

Vic Backlund, former GOP state representative and retired educator:
“Criminal charges should be brought against BP executives ONLY if there is strong evidence that they committed criminal acts.  They may have made some terrible misjudgments, but that doesn’t in itself qualify them to be charged with crimes.”

JoAnne Beilke, Chemeketa Community College board member and real estate agent:
“No.  Not unless they are not working to stop the problem.  Part of the problem was the US agency that allowed these off shore drilling Companies drill without a plan in place. The US should have had a plan in place for accidents.  Remember Alaska? Seems we never learn.  Some things need regulation, Financial instiutions, anything that can damage the enviroment that is on a large scale.  Companies should be held accountable but no courts until all other types of mediations can occur.  All monies that would be spent on Court should be given to clean up.  Not unless we seize their assets.”

Roy Duncan, retired analyst, state of Oregon:
“I am sorry but this may anger some but such is life.  I would only consider possible criminal charges for BP personnel if the investigations include the possibility of malfeasance charges against civil servants and elected officials.  Story after story makes it abundantly clear many of them are not doing their jobs.  Just last night Fox News Channel had a story about 3 cases of seemingly out-of-the-box thinking that outsiders are begging the federal government to consider, but they can’t even get a hearing, which would dramatically enhance clean up and containment possibilities.  Instead we learn of them watching porn on government computers, obfuscating facts to get reelected or to try and gain some other political advantage.

“Such drilling should never have proceeded without emergency shutoff as part of the ORIGINAL plan for each and every well, i.e., step one make hole, step 2, make sure we can stop the gushing when we want.  Instead we hear of massive contributions to election campaigns for both parties and exceptions being granted to existing rules.”

Jacque Moir, retired city councilor:
“Only if if the spill was intentional by the BP executives or they ignored information that they were given that this was going to happen should criminal charges be considered.  Accidents unfortunately do happen and sometimes have dire consequences.  Should there be better policies in place, absolutely!  NO one is coming out of this dire situation without a black eye including our President.  The bigger question is when is the site too deep to drill in?  Obviously the technology is not there at this time to handle drilling at these depths so lets learn from this horrible disaster that it is not acceptable to be drilling this far out/down today.”

Who will ask for sacrifices?

Imagine if President Obama, taking seriously the national debt, the oil spill, and the other grave threats of the day, were to give a speech like this – “Every single person in the United States is going to be affected….  (business) profits are going to be cut down to a reasonably low level by taxation…. (Americans) will have to forgo higher wages….  All of us are used to spending money for things that we want, things, however, which are not absolutely essential.  We will all have to forgo that kind of spending.”

You can already hear Rush Limbaugh’s spittle-flecked rant about socialism, tyranny, and big government takeover.  So where was Rush when FDR gave the speech just quoted, preparing a nation just recovering from the Great Depression for the cost of entering World War II?

FDR made eight references to “sacrifice” in that speech. In an age of focus-grouped, poll-tested politics you may never again hear a president with the bravery to include those painful truths in a speech.   And it seems doubtful that Americans would rise to the challenge in the same way as the WWII generation did.

My own father, the owner of a service station in WWII, had foot problems and vision poor enough that he was unable to serve in the military.  But he was able to see his way to helping in the war effort.  Gasoline rationing, along with tires, had a real effect on his livelihood.  He did his part without complaint, just like everybody else.

In response to the September 11 attack in New York, President Bush advised us to carry on as usual, go shopping.  Now President Obama, as an initial response to the Gulf oil spill, says we can help by, “continuing to visit the communities and beaches of the Gulf coast.”

The sad thing about this is that he has probably gauged his electorate accurately.  While it is normal for citizens to blame the sitting president for every catastrophe, it is rare that the president will challenge the citizenry.  It certainly didn’t win Jimmy Carter many friends.

In the torrent of dim-witted things being said in the press, one that struck me was from David Broder, the “dean of Washington pundits.”  He said that the BP oil gushing in the gulf is now the president’s baby, and will define his presidency.  That may be true, but it is not right.

It is the baby of all of us who believe we have a constitutional right to consume oil in whatever sized vehicle we choose.  If it could be shown that our dependence on oil was a threat to national security would we submit to gasoline rationing in order to reduce that threat?  If it could be proven that our constitutional right to be amused and distracted by extravagant media hardware and content-free programming was stunting our economy and our civic awareness, would we put it aside and begin paying attention?

The individual freedoms we so prize were won collectively, by shared sacrifice, and have been defended through the years in the same way.  The national spending hemorrhage we now face, in addition to ecological catastrophe and Mid-East political peril will be righted only by all of us sharing the burden of adult solutions offered by adult leaders.  Our parents gave that to us.  Now it’s our turn.

Don Vowell lives in Keizer.  He gets on his soapbox regularly in the Keizertimes.

The man with the master plan

Community Development Director Nate Brown leads the city’s planning department. Photo illustration by Andrew Jackson.

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

Born in El Paso, Nate Brown lived on a Navajo reservation until age five, when his family moved to Castro Valley in the San Francisco Bay area of California.

He went to a community college there before going on a two-year mission to Alaska for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, spending time in Juneau, Skagway and Anchorage.

“You couldn’t call home except for Christmas and Mother’s Day,” Brown said of the experience. “It’s a pretty austere life. You get up, you do your studying, you go out and contact people, knock on doors – and just trying to teach people.”

That said, it was an invaluable lesson in learning about others, and how to deal with people, he said.

“It’s cool to develop a relationship with people and be able to share your beliefs and have them acknowledge it,” Brown said of his mission. “… It’s also a really good experience teaching you about people, about how people tick. At that young age, you’re pretty naive about the world.”

He said the time also taught him “not to make assumptions about what’s going on in other people’s lives. They make their own choices, and that’s OK.”

While he was on mission his parents moved to Utah, so he joined them there and enrolled at the University of Utah’s art history program.

“Art’s an important part of our world, so I thought, ‘Yeah, what the heck?’” Brown said. “Then I thought, ‘What am I going to do with a degree in art history?’ At some point I was going to have to make a living.”

Which is what led him to major in architectural engineering, a path that eventually led him to work in community planning.

“It was kind of the best of both worlds. There’s aspects of aesthetics and good design, but it’s also dealing with the built environment, construction and change that’s so vibrant and invigorating,” Brown said.

After finishing that degree and obtaining a master’s degree in public administration, he took a job with Salt Lake County’s planning office. But the lure of the ocean brought him back to the west coast. He and his wife were both from the Bay Area and “wanted to get back to the coast.”

After stints at several Washington counties and cities, he came to this area, seeking better schools for his five children.

He worked for the City of Salem for six years before becoming Keizer’s community development director in 2003.

As an employee, he said the difference between Salem and Keizer “is like night and day.” In addition to that “informal and personable” feeling, the job got him out of dealing with building codes exclusively.

What Brown finds most satisfying about the job is “when you can actually make a positive impact through site design in people’s lives – an interesting space, one where people can enjoy life.”

Brown wouldn’t engage in the debate about Oregon’s centrally-controlled land use system – which puts severe restrictions on development outside of urban growth boundaries.

But he noted the state’s relative lack of billboards along freeways adds an aesthetically pleasing aspect to an otherwise dull drive.

He said of a recent visit to Utah, “Billboards along the interstate show me they don’t care about the overall visual impacts of where they live. If they want to look at garbage on both sides of the freeway, I guess that’s what they’re going to do.”

While a planning and codes department often deals in minutiae, the impacts can be life-altering.

“We’re social creatures, and we all live in communities,” Brown said. “Some of them are rural, in nature, and they’re spread apart, but we all function because of communities. And so we all have to recognize that we have impacts on each other, and we need to create good boundaries so that we can create an environment that is conducive to growth, prosperity and mental health, physical health – it all plays together.”

He said both an upside and downside of working for Keizer is that plans, once adopted, tend to move forward quickly, citing the Salem Area Mass Transit station as one that will start moving shortly.

But Brown’s life isn’t all work by any means. He’s recently picked up the art habit again via a class at a local community center, and has been traveling. He went to Italy last year and to Barcelona this summer.

Brown suggested that younger people just starting out in life should take the time to go overseas so they can better appreciate life in the United States.

“The more you travel, the more you understand that we’re all pretty much dealing with the same issues and have the same struggles, no matter where you are,” Brown said.

His youngest daughter, Gayleen, is still in high school at South Salem High School. His son Art is attending law school in Florida; another son, Wayne is a paramedic for Rural Metro Ambulance. Daughter Michelle is a nurse living in Provo, Utah, and son Phillip is studying engineering at Oregon State.

Project to replace wells moves along

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

Two new wells are being drilled to replace older water sources.

The city contracted with Westerberg Drilling for the work at a cost of $177,440. The two sites – both on Brandon Street NE – are expected to be complete by late August.

They are listed as the Carlhaven East and Carlhaven West well sites. Both currently have wells on them that have been capped.

The Carlhaven East well was being replaced in order to increase the water system’s overall production capacity, Public Works Superintendent Bill Lawyer said. But during routine maintenance work one of the wells at the Carlhaven West site was found to have “perforations in the well casing” staff weren’t aware of previously, he said.

“When we discovered that we immediately abandoned that well,” Lawyer said.

The danger there, Lawyer said, was that the upper water aquifer, which is typically “much more susceptible to contamination” than the lower one, Lawyer said, could flow into the lower one.

All of Keizer’s water comes from the lower aquifer, which is underground between 150 and 200 feet.

The water is pure enough that chemical treatment is unnecessary, so Lawyer said ensuring it’s not contaminated is of the utmost importance.

Once the work is completed, the city will have 16 active wells.

The Carlhaven East well was slated for replacement “primarily due to the age of the well,” Lawyer said. “It was drilled in the 1950s, so it’s pushing 60 years old. That was the primary reason.”