Saying the public hasn’t had enough time to weigh in, Lane County commissioners have delayed consideration of a resolution supporting a Coos Bay cargo terminal to handle coal shipped through Eugene by train.
People interested in the issue will be able to comment at the next two Board of Commissioners meetings, on Oct. 16 in Florence and Oct. 17 in Eugene. The resolution will come up for board discussion and a possible vote at the Eugene meeting.
However, commissioners at their Wednesday meeting opted against holding a public hearing or work session on the issue. Instead, people who want to comment are invited to do so during the public comment period that precedes every board meeting.
All five commissioners supported the two-week delay. Board Chairman Sid Leiken noted that because of county staff cuts, information on the resolution was not posted to the board’s website until later Tuesday, giving people little notice that the topic was up for consideration the next morning.
But two commissioners objected to limiting comments to the public comment period, in which people can address the board on any issue. That period generally is limited to 20 minutes total with individual speakers limited to three minutes each, although the total time can be extended and the three-minute limit is the same as at public hearings.
Still, Commissioner Pete Sorenson pushed for a public hearing, saying that’s a better way to handle an issue that has generated such intense interest. Commissioner Rob Handy agreed.
“We should have a public hearing,” Handy said. “This is an item of high interest not only to this community but all up and down the West Coast.”
He also said the project should undergo an “alternatives assessment” that focuses on how to do the least amount of damage possible rather than determining how much damage can be done while still being safe.
He said the public’s values have shifted away from consumerism and toward more local priorities.
“The things we have done in the past and the assumptions need to be challenged,” Handy said. “Polling regularly shows that folks value community and public health over consumption, and we need to look at the impacts of that.”
The board’s other three commissioners, however, did not support a public hearing and said they are comfortable hearing comments during the public comment period.
Commissioner Jay Bozievich said researching issues and making decisions is what the voters elect them to do.
“I don’t think it rises to the need for a public hearing,” he said. “I think all the information is out there.”
Only one person signed up to address board members at the start of Wednesday’s meeting, perhaps attesting to the short notice given for the topic. John Jordan-Cascade, of the group Beyond Toxics, urged the board to look not only at the economic benefits from jobs and construction but also the economic damage from coal dust.