On the eve of Hillsboro's State of the City address, I stopped to reflect on the stark reality of what has really happened in my own community and I fear that my concern will be not be addressed.
I'm not going to lie or to mince words. I still believe the Jackson School Road project is reprehensible. First, for what the city of Hillsboro has done with our trust, and second, that the council has encouraged the ruin of a beautiful part of Hillsboro at the expense of the taxpayer.
By now, many residents of Hillsboro have seen the raw devastation that the city has incurred upon the Jackson School community. As I drive down this once unique and vibrant area, I experience so many emotions seeing the huge chainsaws and tree cutters reaching into the sky, cutting down our community's beautiful old-growth trees on our once tree-lined street.
Is the joyous smell of Christmas trees in the air? No, it is not. Instead, it is the smell of raw-cut death — over 300 trees destroyed and cut down in these bleak dreary January days.
If one didn't realize the magnitude or scope of the Jackson School Road project before, one can sure see it firsthand and start to grasp the concept of it now. Perhaps more than ever now, the months of citizen angst leading up to the start of this project is better understood. Just take a drive down the road. Homeowners with yards ruined; the new street will practically sit upon many homeowners' doors. Home valuations may have already dropped along the road, as if that is a big surprise. Limb-by-limb, trees have been cut and stripped to a mulchy pulp.
Devastating isn't even an adequate word to describe this project. And personally, like many citizens in this community, I can't even begin to understand how the city could endorse this. How could a plan like this be allowed? A community that wanted safe sidewalks is now getting a 68-foot-wide swath of concrete.
We are forever changed, and certainly not for progress or for the betterment of our community.
There are other big projects coming to the Hillsboro area that residents may not be aware of, or of the impact that those projects will have on them and how their tax dollars are being spent.
The low-bid proposal of $21 million was accepted a few days ago by our city. Of course, that doesn't include the costs incurred with the weeks of tree-cutting, continued property acquisition, environmental studies, traffic studies, legal fees, and engineering. They have not yet even acquired all of the land that they need to take from our fellow residents.
This 1.5-mile road is costing an exorbitant amount, far beyond what was ever estimated and beyond what was recently approved, and that doesn't set well with too many of the taxpayers I know. And while, yes, Jackson School Road needed to be improved, it didn't need to become the highway that the city has forced on all of us.
I want people to know that just because residents may not be personally impacted by this move, the City Council can do this to anyone, and on top of that, they make you pay for it. You're already paying a hefty price for what is happening on Jackson School Road.
It is horrible to see the shameful actions of this council to a city I have lived in, worked in, and a city that I have loved and promoted. What has happened to Jackson School Road is a travesty. The city repeatedly refused to even entertain the idea of a palpable road that would still add sidewalks and safety and yet also maintain livability. I find the gaslighting by the city to be disturbing.
And now, we, who value what Jackson School has become to our community, are forced to live in the aftermath. I believe that as citizens continue to see and hear firsthand what has truly happened here on Jackson School Road, changes in our city leadership will be made.
When the council voted to approve this project, some members admitted that the city could do a better job of communicating with residents, hopefully without blindly following city staff with their own agendas, and
I have seen an improvement in communications on other issues.
Residents of Hillsboro need to be aware of what is going on with city projects and how they will be impacted by Council actions and expenditures and residents need to speak up. I strongly encourage Hillsboro residents to attend not only the State of the City on Thursday, Jan. 30, but also council meetings on the first and third Tuesdays of the month. [Ed.: This commentary was submitted to the News-Times the day before last Thursday's State of the City address in Hillsboro.] If residents don't feel that they have been heard via the city employees, they need to contact councilors directly. My hope is that residents will take a more active role in what is happening in Hillsboro in order to deflect special interests that gain strength when we aren't vigilant in what is happening here. It would be more effective to work with, rather than against, each other.
The State of the City needs to include our problems as well as our successes. As a city, we must be represented by leaders and council members that reflect the voice of their constituents. We will move forward as a city and as a community, and yes, life will go on.
That being said, this "improvement project" will leave a sad legacy, one that none of us will soon forget.
JoDee Clark Lompa is a Hillsboro resident.
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