City, state investigate illegal murals

City of Ashland and Oregon Transportation Department officials are uncertain about what they will do with murals that were installed without permission on the underside of the Lithia Way overpass.

Ashland developer Lloyd Haines had the eight murals installed on Wednesday. He sent an e-mail to city officials on Thursday morning notifying them of his actions.

"The paintings are intended to be public art and are offered to the City as a donation," the e-mail said. "I hope the City will see fit to accept this gift."

The overpass falls under ODOT jurisdiction. Haines did not seek ODOT's support for the project.

He did not win a conditional-use permit which would have exempted the murals from the city's sign code restrictions on murals. Additionally, lighting was installed without an electrical permit from the city, said Ashland Code Compliance Specialist Adam Hanks.

Hanks said on Friday afternoon that he and the city's building official are starting enforcement action, although they don't know yet what that action will be.

"Most of this is predicated on what ODOT decides. We need to coordinate with ODOT," Hanks said. "Do we require that Lloyd start the process to get legal? Or do the murals have to come down, and then he can apply? He has to have ODOT's approval to apply."

Hanks said the highest priority for the city is addressing the lack of an electrical permit. Electric wires run from a nearby building owned by Haines to the overpass.

Mayor John Morrison had strong words about the illegal mural project.

"My perspective is that Lloyd Haines was extremely unwise to have gone out there and put panels and electrical fixtures on a state bridge. He drove holes in it and didn't have permission. It's like, 'What was he thinking?' We just had a bridge collapse with many people killed," Morrison said, referring to the Aug. — collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis that killed at least a dozen people.

He said Lithia Way is part of Highway 99 and thousands of people use it each day.

Morrison said he has called ODOT to share his concerns and ask that they take the lead in investigating the situation. He said the bridge safety issue far outweighs any issues he has with Haines violating the city's sign code.

"This is not about art," Morrison said. "It's about the bridge."

ODOT spokesperson Gary Leaming said the state agency is looking into the situation.

"We'll consult with our bridge section, and if there's no impact to the structure or bridge safety, we'll probably leave them there. Who knows? We'll have to take a look. Our concern is we don't want people drilling into bridge structures," Leaming said.

Haines said he used two-inch concrete screws to fasten the murals to the bottom of the overpass.

Leaming said other ODOT projects that include art, such as the new retaining wall at Medford's south interchange that has images of fish, were engineered so that the art is part of the structure &

not an add-on.

Because public dollars go into public infrastructure, ODOT is concerned about anything that would shorten the life of structures, he said.

"We're not the art police. That's not why we ask people to come to us. It's about, number one, safety and, number two, the integrity of the bridge structure," Leaming said.

Haines commissioned Ashlanders Denise Baxter and Robert Paulmenn, as well as Joseph Crowell of Talent and Judith Falconer of Grants Pass to paint the murals on panels.

"Let's hope people can figure out a way to leave this alone," Haines said.

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com. To post a comment, visit .

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