CPRD “Bridge Builder” wants to “Blow Up” Bridge

The following Opinion appeared in the Newberg Graphic on July 19. 2023.

Chehalem Parks and Recreation District held a special meeting on July 11 to swear in newly elected board members, Jason Fields and Matt Smith. Traditionally, the swearing in of new directors has occurred in a regularly scheduled August meeting. However, the Berschauer-backed duo was champing at the bit to make their mark on our parks in much the same way that Dave Brown’s crowd came into office to “throw a brick” (his words) into the Newberg Public School District.

Introducing Our New “Bridge Builder”

After being sworn in, Matt Smith was chosen as the new chair of the board. He took a moment to read prepared remarks, stating that he wants to “build bridges” in the community. Ironically, as one of his first official acts, Mr. Smith made a motion that effectively stops the long-planned building of a pedestrian bridge and trail within Ewing Young Park. 

The discussion of the Ewing Young Park bridge project was not on the published agenda or 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.

About the Ewing Young Bridge

Completion of the footbridge within Ewing Young Park would allow the public to access 11 acres of parkland already owned by CPRD taxpayers. The parcel is separated from the remainder of the park by the Chehalem Creek and landlocked by about half a dozen neighbors. This land has been owned by the citizens of CPRD 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. 

The Fear of Bridges

Yamhill County Commissioners denied the permit to build the bridge, citing the property owner rights of the neighbors. CPRD is appealing the County’s decision through the LUBA (Land Use Board of Appeals) process and has a decent chance of prevailing. The unspoken truth is County Commissioners fear that any bridge or trail successfully built in our community will weaken their case against the Yamhellas-Westsider Trail that will connect the cities of Carlton and Yamhill.  A LUBA ruling in favor of bridges and trails would call into question County Commissioners’ obstructionist actions toward other trails in the County.

How to “Blow Up” a Bridge

Enter our “Bridge Builder”, Matt Smith. His motion would stop the LUBA appeals process that is well underway. It would put a stop to any progress on the Ewing Young Park improvements for the next 5 years and cost the district an additional $100,000. So much for his promise of fiscal responsibility. 

To his credit, Jason 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, even in the face of disapproval from County Commissioners Mary Starrett and Lindsay Berschauer, who kept a watchful eye from the back of the room. 

Matt Smith’s motion to delay and increase the cost of the Ewing Young project is a gift to County Commissioners. As long as the question of trails and bridges never makes it through the entire LUBA process, the County Commissioners have the cover they need to deny all other trails and bridges. This is exactly how Commissioner Berschauer “blew up” the Yamhellas-Westsider bridge, shortly after she was sworn in. And it gained her more political influence among the fringe at great cost to tax payers. When politicians with career aspirations blow up bridges, it’s we the people that 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 is 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 CPRD Board on July 24 at 6 p.m. You can also write to the CPRD Board via Public Information Director, Kat Ricker at kricker@cprdnewberg.org

Matt Dolphin