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Deck-stacking charges denied

Birdshill resident files complaint with FTA over efforts regarding streetcar

As talks about bringing the Portland Streetcar to Lake Oswego inch forward, a local spectator is charging three public officials in the mix with stacking a committee to ram the project through, charges the officials say are bogus. But in West Linn, their accuser is getting some support from Mayor Norm King, who says his city has been kept outside of talks about potential transportation impacts.

Charles 'Skip' Ormsby filed his complaint with the Federal Transportation Administration Sept. 8 charging Lake Oswego Mayor Judie Hammerstad, Metro Councilor Brian Newman and Fred Hansen, TriMet's general manager, with secret dealings to bring the Portland Streetcar down a rail line on Highway 43 into Lake Oswego.

Ormsby, in his complaint, said the three have colluded to bring the streetcar through his Birdshill neighborhood, just north of Lake Oswego, by stacking a Metro committee with streetcar supporters while excluding neighborhood and West Linn interests from the process.

All three officials say the charges are unfounded and that Ormsby's complaints stem from comments made in a public meeting - in plain view of anyone who wanted to join a debate about who should serve on a committee. The Metro committee, known as the Lake Oswego to Portland Transit and Trail Alternatives Analysis project advisory committee (LOPAC), is charged with studying transit alternatives on a congested Highway 43.

But Ormsby said comments made in a recent Metro meeting show the committee's make-up is flawed and that Hammerstad and Hansen influenced its membership. He has some support from King, who said he sought a seat on the committee for West Linn but was turned away.

The crux of Ormsby's complaint stems from comments made by Newman in a Metro Council meeting July 20. In the meeting, Newman said he did feel that LOPAC should include West Linn and Sellwood members but didn't appoint those representatives because Hansen and Hammerstad objected.

'Fred Hansen and Judie Hammer-stad, Mayor Hammerstad, felt pretty strongly the opposite way … I kind of acquiesced,' Newman said.

Ormsby charges that, as a result, West Linn residents have been excluded from weighing in on a regional transportation project, even while their transportation routes would be affected. The number of transit riders from West Linn may also be used to leverage a streetcar extension south, though officials there aren't sure it's a best option.

Ormsby alleges the agreement between Newman, Hansen and Hammerstad transformed LOPAC, a forum required to secure federal funds for transportation, into a 'rubber stamp process.' He asks the FTA to look at LOPAC to examine the relationships between committee members and government officials tied to the project and probe the presence of development interests in the mix.

Rick Saito, a planner who serves as vice chair of the Metro group, represents Foothills landowners in their efforts to redevelop the area around a Lake Oswego streetcar stop.

Hammerstad, who reviewed the complaint at the request of the Lake Oswego Review, called the charges 'ridiculous.'

She said she did advocate to limit membership on the committee but only to confine the study area to the Highway 43 corridor. The study began, she said, as an inquiry into what to do with growing traffic problems on Highway 43 and an adjacent rail line. She said she wanted owners of a rail line - TriMet, Portland, Multnomah County, Clackamas County and Lake Oswego - to use the forum to probe its possibilities.

While a Lake Oswego group has named the streetcar as a favored choice to improve transit between Lake Oswego and Portland, Hammerstad said LOPAC is still working on possible alternatives for transit to Portland. She said study of the region by Metro would net West Linn and other regional interests before any project moves forward.

Hansen, through a spokesperson, echoed those comments.

But King said West Linn's exclusion from the study group has worried residents about their future transportation options. King said residents seem to favor a transit option like MAX but worry a streetcar link between Portland and Lake Oswego will slow public transportation to Portland from West Linn by adding transfers.

'Our concern is that there will not be adequate park and ride facilities constructed in Lake Oswego,' King said. 'That is in addition to the main concern about the complicated transfers necessary to use the streetcar.'

Newman said anxiety that West Linn will be left out of a regional transportation study are premature.

'Judie is very up front with her preference (for streetcar) … People think that because she is an advocate that this whole effort is a done deal. It is far from clear at this point whether the streetcar is going to be cost effective or make sense for the corridor.'

Newman said Metro staff continue to visit with West Linn leaders and other areas affected by proposed changes on Highway 43. He said the lengthy road to federal funding for any streetcar project, if preferred, would include thorough study and public process.

But Ormsby said he intends to act as a watchdog on the project and wants to be sure that its impact on his neighborhood will make sense.

'Birdshill may have to give up some attributes but I'm not going to give it up without any kind of regional context or meaning,' he said.

He made another complaint about the process to the FTA about a year ago, which was dismissed.