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Saddam might delay new amphitheater

INDEPENDENCE -- Saddam Hussein poses a direct threat to Independence's new amphitheater.

The project, already postponed from last summer, may be postponed again if America goes to war against Iraq.

Most of the work for the project is going to be done by soldiers with the Oregon National Guard. Work is scheduled to begin as soon as the weather dries up around mid-April.

However, if troops are called into wartime service, that could put the project off until next year.

"It might happen," said Major Dan Brewer of the Innovative Readiness Training Program in Salem.

"We just don't know yet. The project is still on the top of our list. We're just waiting to see what happens with the different units."

Brewer doesn't know when he'll know more. That depends on Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush.

"It all depends on what happens over there," Brewer said. "It's a big picture thing."

Brewer's unit would not be called overseas. However, he said war would cause a massive shuffling of resources and personnel. By moving another unit, his unit may be called off the Independence project.

The project costs $1.3 million. It would cost $270,000 more without the Guard's volunteer labor.

City officials are excited about the project.

"This is going to be an incredible enhancement to our quality of life," said Mayor John McArdle.

"We'll be able to use it for everything from our Fourth of July celebrations to music festivals to school events."

The ampitheater will be located where the baseball diamond is now, with a clear view of the river. The baseball field won't be lost, just moved.

The plan calls for additional sports fields to the north where the dirt is coming from.

If Saddam doesn't interfere, the amphitheater could be ready by the Fourth of July. "We could be watching the fireworks from the ampitheater," McArdle said.

The ampitheater, which seats small groups up to 4,000 people, will be constructed in two phases -- the bottom and the top -- with the first phase completed in 2003.

City officials have until July to spend $250,000 from a grant from Oregon Parks and Recreation. However, if war causes delays, they can ask for an extension.

"I would hate to do that," said City Manager Greg Ellis. "That's not doing what I said I was going to do, but sometimes there are forces beyond your control."

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