Guest commentary: Park district 'bridge builder' seeks to derail park bridge

The Chehalem Park and Recreation Board held a special meeting July 11 to swear in newly elected board members Jason Fields and Matt Smith.

Traditionally, the swearing in of new directors has taken place during the regularly scheduled August meeting. However, the Berschauer-backed duo was champing at the bit to make its mark on our parks in much the same way Dave Brown’s crowd came into office to “throw a brick” (his words) into the Newberg School District.

After being sworn in, Matt Smith was chosen as the new board chair. And he took a moment to read prepared remarks, stating that he wanted to “build bridges” in the community.

Ironically, as one of his first official acts, Mr. Smith made a motion to effectively halt the long-planned development of a pedestrian bridge and trail in Ewing Young Park.

Discussion of the Ewing Young Park project was not on the published agenda, nor was it announced to the public in advance. Instead, it was penciled in during the meeting, in a clear attempt to subvert the democratic notion that the public should be aware of and have a voice in the decisions of our elected officials in open meetings.

A good first step for aspiring metaphorical bridge builders like Matt Smith would be to invite people with different points of view to the table and genuinely listen before making a decision.

Completion of a footbridge in the park would allow the public to access 11 more acres already owned by Chehalem Park & Recreation District taxpayers. The parcel is separated from the remainder of the park by Chehalem Creek and landlocked by about half a dozen neighbors.

This land has been owned by the district since 1972. That is long before most of the homes surrounding the park were developed.

The neighbors purchased their properties knowing they were moving in next to a park. Yet in a display of Not In My Back Yard NIMBYism, they now object to the park being used as … a park!

With Lindsay Berschauer leading the way, the Yamhill County commissioners denied the permit to build the bridge, citing the property rights of the neighbors. The district is appealing the county’s decision through the state Land Use Board of Appeals process, and has a decent chance of prevailing.

The unspoken truth is that the county commissioners fear any bridge or trail successfully built in our community will weaken their case against the Yamhelas Westsider Trail, designed to follow former Union Pacific rail right of way running from just outside McMinnville to Gaston, passing through Carlton and Yamhill along the way. A LUBA ruling in favor of bridges and trails would call into question the county commissioners’ obstructionist actions toward other trails in the county.

Enter Mr. Smith, our “bridge builder.”

His motion would stop a LUBA appeals process already well underway. It would also put an end to any progress on Ewing Young improvements for the next five years, figuring to cost the district an additional $100,000. So much for his promise of fiscal responsibility.

To his credit, Fields had the courage to break with his freshman colleague in favor of giving the board more time to review materials provided by staff. Let’s hope he is able to maintain a more reasonable approach, though his action was greeted by the face of disapproval from Berschauer and fellow County Commissioner Mary Starrett as they kept a watchful eye from the back of the room.

Smith’s motion to delay the work and increase the cost on the Ewing Young project is a gift to the commissioners. As long as the question of trails and bridges never makes it through the entire LUBA process, the commissioners have the cover they need to deny all other trails and bridges in the county.

This is exactly how Commissioner Berschauer blew up a nearly completed Yamhelas Westsider Trail bridge shortly after being sworn into office. And it gained her more political influence among the fringe at great cost to taxpayers.

When politicians with career aspirations blow up bridges, it’s we the people who are left to pick up the pieces.

Additional Information about the Ewing Young Park can be found at https://www.cprdnewberg.org/general/page/ewing-young-park-trails. A replay of the July 11 CPRD meeting may be found online at https://www.youtube.com/live/356aBAL4mt8

If you value parks and trails in our community, please consider attending the next special meeting of the park district board, set for 6 p.m. Monday, July 24. You can also weigh in by writing Public Information Director Kat Ricker at kricker@cprdnewberg.org.

Newberg resident Matt Dolphin is a former professional opera singer who went on to found the Oregon Music Academy in Tigard. He has helped oversee instructional and academic technology at Butler and George Fox universities, and serves on the board of Trailkeepers of Oregon.


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