Light-rail project spurs action by commissioners in Oregon County

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The Clackamas County commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance Thursday night to allow county staff and police to perform routine Portland-Milwaukie light-rail business.

The ordinance allows county staff to process permits and do engineering and surveying work on the Orange Line, advocate for Clackamas County at regional and state rail planning talks, and ensure public safety.

County staff say, since most of the jobs included are mandated by state law, they are part of normal staff duties and don't actually use county resources, as prohibited by Measure 3-401.

Measure 3-401, passed in September 2012, requires a public vote before using county resources to finance, design, construct or operate any rail lines in the county. The wording immediately started raising questions from the previous and current boards about whether that prohibits staff and commissioners from advocating for the county's best interest in such projects as future Amtrak lines or whether police could patrol Portland-Milwaukie light rail, which is under construction.Several people spoke against light rail and in favor of voting on it, in general, at the meeting.

Chairman John Ludlow said the leaders of the Measure 3-401 movement recognize that a clarification is necessary.

"This is work the commission asked for," Ludlow said.

Voters get chance

Voters get their first chance to weigh in on Portland-Milwaukie light rail in the May 21 special election, with two ballot measures asking whether the board should transfer some properties and comply with existing contractual agreements.However, the board may be compelled to fulfill the agreements, regardless of how Clackamas County residents vote. In March, a Clackamas County Circuit Court judge changed the wording of the ballot measures to reflect that, taking away any ambiguity that the voters have any sway over the end result.

TriMet says 35 percent of work on the $1.5 billion project is completed, including construction along the whole 7.3 miles.

There will be a second public hearing and reading of the ordinance on May 2, so residents can voice their concerns or support for the proposed rule.