Fewer than 10 members of the public were on hand Monday evening to hear the same message from three Oregon Department of Transportation representatives that they had heard from this trio on June 25, when the three were last in Wallowa County. The subject, again, was the pending closure of ODOTs maintenance station on Highway 3.
In response to a direct question, veteran ODOT district manager Mike Buchanan said, As far as Im concerned, its a done deal. Im moving forward toward a Nov. 1 closure.
Ostensibly designed to be an evening public meeting held at the Hurricane Creek Grange where truck drivers would be afforded the opportunity to express opposition to the closure, not one word from a truck driver was heard.
Assistant ODOT district manager Dennis Hackney, who drove from Baker City on his day off to attend the meeting, expressed surprise at the sparse turnout.
Buchanan stated the closure will save ODOT about $240,000 every biennium, and said current plans are to keep the same loader out north along Highway 3 at one of either two sites under consideration to place a sand pile. Those potential sites are the Flora Junction or ODOTs existing rock pit at the top of Buford Grade.
Vern Garrett, a retired Boise Cascade mill worker familiar with the North Highway, expressed concern for future motorists stranded on that treacherous, lightly traveled road between Wallowa County and southeast Washington if no one is manning the Flora station.
Clarann Witty, claiming as many as 800 signatures opposing the closure are being sent to ODOT, is equally upset about the pending closure and the means by which ODOT is implementing that closure. Witty believes a definitive decision for closure was made before any public hearings were held concerning the matter.
In a letter sent to ODOT by Witty and other petitioners, it was stated, ODOT mentions safety, but at this present time we are not seeing that at all.
Buchanan readily admits services along Highway 3 will be reduced, but he counters one common argument. He says crews from Enterprise begin their shifts at 4 a.m. and could begin earlier when winter weather-related problems affect school bus routes.
He also said that, because the two full-time ODOT employees working at the Flora station do not work all hours of the week, that the four shifts per week launched in Enterprise now will be expanded to more Enterprise-originated shifts after Nov. 1.