Curt Howell


Considering Mrs. Dutto’s response to my letter about the now implemented non-horn status of the five main UP crossing through La Grande.

First: I applaud Mrs. Dutto and others for their public service. Making decisions for us all as representatives is not without difficulty and usually with little applause.

Now a few things to dig deeper into and some comparisons.

As reported in The Observer, the price tag for the new policy has been near $200,000. If not, then what is it? Whatever it was seems a lot of money out of a poor community.

While UP runs about 23-24 trains per day through La Grande, the averages would say that only 10-12 run through during nocturnal hours.

Many people have sleep difficulties, but I have never heard personally that UP train horns were the cause of those problems. That does not mean there are none.

As for the tourist trade: I would direct a comparison to Sandpoint, Idaho, where the BNSF Railway Co. and UP run at least three times more trains than the UP does through La Grande. Sandpoint is a slightly smaller city (yet arguably more affluent) that is all about tourism and health. No restrictions are there as to railroad horns. Hotels and condos exist with very close proximity to the railroad right-of-way.

In talking with a person who has lived in Sandpoint for a very long time and runs a business, no concerns seem to come up about the train horn situation.

As for the street comparison: If the city were to spend a large amount of money for improvements, I would suggest that the streets, water and sewer systems are of much higher priority that what has been spent on the crossings. Yes, street funds normally come from another pot entirely in the budget. Streets and sidewalks are used by all. My point is that if you were to spend precious cash funds, why not put it in a place that benefits all?

For as long as I can remember, La Grande city councils have not instituted comprehensive street maintenance plans. These failures have led us to the sad situation we have now with rapidly deteriorating street infrastructures. In the early 1980s I served on a committee that recommended to the council several policies to ensure the streets/sidewalks were maintained. I can’t see where those things have been followed.

Some policy toward proper more thorough clean-up of leaves and other debris at curbs would help prevent deterioration of curbs, sidewalks and asphalt. A possibly more aggressive program of using tar to fill cracks in streets may help a lot. Maintaining the investment in good surfaces cuts long-term costs. Is there an ongoing plan to repair broken curbs damaged by mostly snow removal?

Preventive weed control is another area that is relatively cheap to perform and can reduce the unsightly and damaging weeds growing in many cracks and joints of concrete and pavement. If you want economic improvements, start with housekeeping.

Homeowners/landlords could enhance their properties’ look considerably with some maintenance. Is there no ordinance to not allow parking on curbs and front lawns? Could the city provide some incentives to property owners to more highly maintain their properties?

Perhaps the present city council could provide some leadership in directing staff to explore ways to turn the situation around? Provide guidance and deadlines, and report to the citizens what you are doing.

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