In over 10 years covering bike issues in Portland I had never been to a protest outside Metro headquarters. That changed last week when about two dozen people marched and held up signs in opposition to Metro’s plans to build new trails on two parcels in the hills north of Forest Park.
Now the debate will head into Metro Council Chambers where a public hearing will be held tomorrow (4/14) on the North Tualatin Mountains Access Master Plan.
As we’ve reported, this plan will set into motion the development of trails on two (out of four) parcels Metro purchased with funds supplied by voters via a 2013 levy. Out of 1,300 acres purchased in the North Tualatin Mountains, Metro wants to build less than 10 miles of new trails that would be accessible by bike and foot.
The off-road cycling advocacy group Northwest Trail Alliance supported that levy specifically because Metro made it clear that they’d consider new biking trails – something that the City of Portland has failed to deliver in the adjacent 5,000 acres of Forest Park. The NWTA, along with other conservation and neighborhood groups, helped craft the plan. The committee met five times over the past 16 months and Metro held over 20 community events in total and read through over 500 official comments before finalizing the plan that will be in front of Council for the first time tomorrow.
While there’s widespread support for the plan, one group that wasn’t involved in the official public process is vehemently opposed. The Tualatin Wildlife Alliance, led by the man who organized last week’s protest, Hank McCurdy, has created a website and has garnered media attention to raise awareness of their opposition.
McCurdy and his supporters held signs last week that read “Science before politics” and “Metro breaks promise to voters with adventure park plan.” Their arguments against the plan are remarkably similar to those that fought against trails in Forest Park in 2009. In fact, one of the architects of the Forest Park opposition, Les Blaize, was at Friday’s protest.
The principle argument Blaize made six years ago and the one McCurdy is making now has to do with science. They feel Metro needs to do more studies about the impact of new trails before moving forward with any plans.
On Friday I talked with several of the protestors. I asked one woman why she was protesting. “I want policies to be based on science,” she said. “My issue is, I love science. I feel it’s the best way to make policy.”
“They haven’t done the science.”
— Hank McCurdy, Tualatin Wildlife Alliance
McCurdy echoed that sentiment. Asked what his main concern with the plan was, McCurdy told me that, “Metro has turned this into a political matter and has done woefully insufficient science on it.” “They haven’t done the science,” he continued. “If you don’t know what’s there, you can’t assess what the impact is going to be.”
McCurdy also says Metro needs to put conservation first and he’s concerned that the plan will compromise wildlife habitat. McCurdy lives adjacent to one of the Tualatin Mountains parcels that’s up for development in this plan. Publicly available maps show that his property includes a driveway, three buildings and about 1.5 acres of cleared land. He declined to answer questions about how his own property impacts wildlife.
“Given the extensive studies that have already been done on site and concerning this type of habitat it is unlikely that additional studies would produce significantly new information that would affect management decisions.”
— Olena Turula, Metro project manager
Metro staff stand by the science in their plan. They acknowledge some level of impact is inevitable with any project that improves public access to natural areas; but they maintain that the proposed trails have been aligned in a way to minimize impacts on wildlife habitat.
In an April 14th letter (PDF), Metro project manager Olena Turula recommended that members of Metro Council adopt the plan. “Given the extensive studies that have already been done on site and concerning this type of habitat,” she wrote, “it is unlikely that additional studies would produce significantly new information that would affect management decisions.”
Another notable vote in support of the plan comes from Mike Houck, the executive director of the Urban Greenspaces Institute and a City of Portland Planning and Sustainability Commissioner. In a BikePortland comment posted last week, he said he supports the plan for two reasons: because, “Metro ecologists have adhered to policy of protecting core habitat and their mandate to put ecological health of their sites first” and “They listened to those concerned about elk and modified the trail.”
Tomorrow’s hearing will be held in Metro Council Chambers (600 NE Grand Ave) from 2:00 to 5:00 pm. The hearing will be followed by a Council work session next Tuesday (4/19) and then will be up for adoption on Thursday (4/21).
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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