If you're not worried yet, there's time
Worried yet? You probably should be. A vigilante group is forming in Josephine County, ODOT is torturing the definition of impact, and even in Ashland, the center of all that passes for hip in downstate Oregon, they can't tell the difference between a flash mob and a demonstration.
People converged on the bricks at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival the other day to call for and end to violence against women and dance the macarena. Yes, the macarena. One woman listed things she said the group was in favor of: humanity, women, freedom, love, goodness.
Way to take a stand. But if you're preaching to the choir, in a warm and fuzzy environment, you're probably not a flash mob.
A flash mob assembles suddenly to do doing something that seems pointless but grabs attention in a public space. Dancers who swarmed New York City's Times Square and burst into choreography from the musical "West Side Story" apropos of nothing were probably a flash mob.
Taking over a public area in our surveillance society is inherently a subversive act. But this mob was organized by an Oregon Shakespeare Festival guy in an OSF space.
Any flash mob worth its salt is edgy, even a little dangerous. Its whole point is anti-establishment, anti-conformist, anti-comfort. Its ancestors are the Marx Brothers, Coyote and the great Gazoo.
The OSF's Darcy Danielson, who was part of the mob, says to quibble about semantics misses the larger point.
"We don't know who among us, dancing in the sunshine, was a victim of violence," she says. "If that person did the macarena that day and it helped heal a wound, I think that's a good thing."
A good thing, OK. A flash mob, no.
If you don't worry about the likes of flash mobs, you might worry for area wildlife in light of the Oregon Department of Transportation's plans for handling the ridiculous traffic on Highway 62 from north Medford to White City.
Something clearly needs to be done. And the options are limited by geography. But ODOT has plans for a road that would carry 20,000 vehicles a day within spitting distance of some of the key remaining bird and wildlife habitat in the Medford/White City area. There's no money for it now, but there could be some day.
Only the first two phases of the bypass, from Poplar Drive and Bullock Road in Medford to Corey Road in White City have been funded, at a cost of $120 million, ODOT spokesman Gary Leaming says. The final EIS on that stretch is due this spring, with construction to begin next year. Travel times in the corridor will improve by 14 minutes, Leaming says.
Plans as yet unfunded call for the bypass to eventually follow Agate Road along the Denman Wildlife Area, eventually ending at Dutton Road in White City. At its closest point, traffic would roar along the Military Slough Tract north of Avenue G within a road's width. In the draft environmental impact study that came out last fall, ODOT said 20,000 vehicle trips a day "would not directly impact" the area.
The marshes and ponds in these areas are used by hikers, hunters, birders, anglers, kids and wildlife. They are nesting grounds for species as reclusive as the Virginia rail. While the road would not travel directly through those wetlands and waters, it would be uncomfortably close.
ODOT Environmental Project Manager Anna Henson says concerns have been raised about the impact on wildlife. But she says that since the project's footprint is all on the east side of Agate Road, and because it doesn't enter the wildlife areas, ODOT considers the noise, air pollution and light that would be created only an "indirect impact."
In that case, she says, "You don't have to look at wildlife areas really hard."
When and if money to build the rest of the bypass is found, Henson says ODOT would seek to mitigate any impact in the design phase. Meanwhile, the specter of Highway 62-type traffic roaring past that habitat at the distance of a field goal from the 20-yard line is, with apologies to Jerry Seinfeld, a pretty big matzo ball hanging out there.
If you're not worried about wildlife, you might worry about the Josephine County residents who are arming themselves to do what county voters wouldn't pay the real cops to do.
Voters in low-tax Josephine County routinely sink measures seeking to provide basic services you expect in the 21st century. As a result of a failed levy, the county last summer laid off more than 100 employees, including two-thirds of its sheriff's employees.
Worried that criminals will seize the opportunity handed to them by voters, men in the Hugo area calling themselves "first responders" have taken the neighborhood watch concept a giant step further. They've sought training in tactics of searches, arrests, building entry, the use of guns, self-defense and use of force.
Neither a group member who recently detained a person at gunpoint nor the Sheriff's Office returned calls seeking comment.
Look, there are reasons the police have an ACADEMY to teach this stuff. You don't have to be a George Zimmerman following a Trayvon Martin to get it wrong. Police work is dicey. Cops around the country burst into the wrong houses, initiate fatal car chases, shoot the wrong people, even shoot each other.
And those are the trained professionals. Gun-toting civilians out there facing split-second decisions with life or death in the balance. Can we see this ending badly?
If you're not worried, you're probably not paying attention.
Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. If you have comments or suggested topics for the column, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.