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Day: February 20, 2012

House passes bill that may affect fire election

Of the Keizertimes

The Oregon House of Representatives narrowly passed Monday a bill that could affect the March election deciding which fire district will serve north Keizer.

The 31-29 vote sends the bill on to the state Senate, which may or may not take up the bill. An emergency clause would make it effective immediately upon the governor’s signature.

The relevant amendment (you may hear it called Dash-6) would require that the residents of Clear Lake separately approve their annexation into Keizer Fire District from Marion County Fire District No. 1, which currently provides emergency services to the area.

The amendment’s backer, Rep. Brian Clem, D – Salem, said the upcoming election dilutes the Clear Lake neighborhood’s voice, as the entire city of Keizer and all of Keizer Fire District will vote on the matter. Clem seeks to achieve what he calls a “true double-majority.”

“The provisions in the bill would make it clear that KFD would be able to vote on whether they want a neighborhood brought into their district, and the neighborhood itself would be able to vote.”

He said that, if the bill passed, the Marion County Clerk would be able to tabulate votes from the affected area of north Keizer separately from the rest of the electorate,” Clem said.

Rep. Kim Thatcher, R – Keizer, is an opponent of the amendment, saying it isn’t the legislature’s place to jump into a dispute with an election drawing close. She pointed out that the question was sent to the electorate by two bodies – the city council and KFD board – that were elected by voters.

“I don’t think we should be sweeping in as the state (on) a local election in process,” Thatcher said.

Clem also questions whether the city of Keizer has authority to propose withdrawing part of the city from one special district without providing the service itself. Opponents of the KFD annexation say the city is using statutes intended only for cities who will service the area itself, like if the city had a fire department.

He said special districts should have to mutually agree to boundary disputes.

“That system created harmony for the rest of us for many, many years because if one party didn’t agree to it it didn’t happen,” Clem said.

Rep. Jean Cowan, D – Newport, said she would have opposed the bill in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee had she been present for the group’s vote, saying it virtually guaranteed unintended consequences. It passed out of committee 6-1.

“We need to look at what those consequences will be,” Cowan said. “It’s a complicated and divisive local issue and it absolutely must be settled, but not through statutory change.”

The underlying and unrelated bill has political problems of its own: It was written to address landowners who live inside an urban growth boundary, but outside the service boundaries of a city, utility district or other providers of water or sewer service. The utility provider would be required to service that property owner’s land if the owner paid for all infrastructure costs. The bill faces considerable opposition from a number of Oregon mayors.

Just Ask! Relief from train whistles? Depends on where you live.

Ask us a question about just about anything and we’ll do our best to answer it, or find the people who can. Just Ask is a recurring Keizertimes feature.

A west Keizer resident is wondering why train engineers feel the need to make their presence known during twilight hours. He writes:

“Do you know anything about trains blowing horns at all hours at night and during the day? I know there must be rules on crossing horn blowing to notify the cars and pedestrians. But it seems there may be a bit of overkill on the warning whistle. It goes on for quite a long time.” – Dave B., Keizer

Dear Dave,

While most of the train crossings are in Salem, sound knows no jurisdictional boundaries.

So first the good news: The City of Salem is working to establish a quiet zone where trains wouldn’t be required to use their whistle at street crossings.
The bad news: It won’t happen until at least 2013, and possibly well beyond. Even when it does, it may not help your particular case. The quiet zones would be along the Union Pacific line that runs east of Keizer and goes into downtown Salem along 12th Street NE.

Meanwhile, the BNSF line – that’s the one that goes right by Keizer Station south, cutting diagonally through north Salem and towards the Willamette River – is not scheduled for upgrades.

All trains approaching an at-grade crossing (that means on the same level, as opposed to above on a bridge or below in a tunnel) must sound their whistle, no matter how much (or little) traffic they see and what time of day or night it is.

But even when there’s all kinds of lights and gates to make the train’s approach obvious?

Chris Adams, grade crossing manager for the Federal Railroad Administration, has an explanation that makes sense: “Safety reasons. Statistics have shown that more than 50 percent of incidents occur where there are gates and lights.”

They also have to blow the whistle if they see a trespasser or a worker alongside the tracks, according to Rick Shankle, crossing safety section manager at the Oregon Department of Transportation.
Quiet zones were created as a measure to reduce noise from train whistles, and introduced in 2005. For the FRA to allow a quiet zone, Adams said, “the community has to come up with safety measures” to compensate for lessened awareness because the whistles are gone.

“It’s a safety versus quality of life issue,” Adams said. Because of that, there’s scant federal or state money available to help local governments that may be fed up with the noise but don’t have the cash to make fixes themselves.

Some changes make a crossing automatically qualify as a quiet zone, Adams said. This includes adding gates to block all lanes that could potentially be used to cross the tracks, – “people go around them,” Adams said – or what she called channelization devices, essentially man-made medians that come up from the pavement and divide a street when a train is coming, reducing or eliminating the driver’s ability to cross the tracks by driving in another lane.

“You can also mix and match, but anything that’s not those full measures has to be approved by the FRA,” Adams said. “(The local government) shows the decreased risk by doing this, then we approve it or don’t approve it.”

While a popular idea, quiet zones aren’t currently very common. There’s none in Salem and only seven statewide.

But Salem may get one in the relatively near future. The Cherry City is pursuing a quiet zone from Madison Street NE south to Mill Street – through what Julie Warncke called the core area of the city.

Design work is almost done, with construction to start this year. The quiet zone application comes after that.

“All we can do is apply for it,” Warncke said.

Improvements were funded through a $99 million bond issuance approved by Salem voters in 2008.
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