Due to three vacant seats on the Newport City Council and one move-up to Mayor, there were four new city councilors appointed Monday evening. The new councilors are Ryan Parker, Cynthia Jacobi, Beatriz Botello and CM Hall.
Appreciation for their service was expressed for outgoing councilors Mark Saelens, Wendy Engler and Laura Swanson along with kind and appreciative words expressed for the departing three-term Mayor Sandy Roumagoux.
In other council business Newport Public Works Director Tim Gross was given the green light to hire an engineering consulting firm to help the city assist companies to reduce the strength of their industrial sewage that flows into the city’s sewer treatment plant. Specifically called-out was Rogue Brewery but there are other local brewers that will likely also fall within the category of needing to pre-treat their discharge before it heads toward the sewer plant.
The goal is to not allow private businesses to suddenly overwhelm the city sewer treatment system and expect regular city rate/taxpayers to foot the costs. The city approved spending just over $50,000 for a consulting firm to recommend effluent pre-treatment regulations. Gross seemed confident that the state Department of Environmental Quality and the federal Environmental Protection Agency will stand behind the city’s efforts to deal with a situation that has become a big problem for Newport Public Works. This is an evolving story.
Meanwhile, the city council approved the launch of a utility discount program which will allow low income residents to get up to a 30% discount on their water and sewer bills for those at 60% (or lower) of local median income. The Community Services Consortium will run the program which includes getting the word out to the public that this new cost savings program is about to be launched. Newport water and and wastewater bills will include details on it. It’s scheduled to be launched March 1st.
And finally the council talked about an effort at the state legislature to take-over of the Port of Newport based on the recent track record of the port commission. Over the past few years, there has been a revolving door among the commissioners, along with the loss of a large state grant that was awarded to the port to help further refine the construction and use of the new Newport International Terminal.
The port’s inability to manage the grant caught the eye of a number of state lawmakers. They say they’ve lost faith in the port’s credibility in growing the port in to a powerful economic engine for not only Newport, but for the entire state. They say legislation will be introduced in the upcoming state legislature to do to Newport what the state did to Coos Bay some years back. The state stepped in and heavily invested in what was a sleepy port of Coos Bay, turning it into a major economic powerhouse that benefits Oregon statewide – not just local users. Oregon’s economy thrives on foreign trade and state officials insist that the Port of Newport is way under-performing.
Such a state plan is seen as a very substantial threat to the Newport area fishing fleet which fears international shipping will “take over” the port. Negotiations are underway to find some “middle ground” between shippers and fishers as to who gets to use the port’s facilities at specific times of the year.
Somewhat complicating the situation is that the fishing fleet has traded in many of their smaller boats for fishing vessels that are basically too big to tie up at the small docks that line the bay. They require far more space to unload their catch and work on their nets. And fishermen contend that there are some portions of the year they absolutely must have access to the International Terminal during peak fishing time periods.
Many fishermen fear a loss of control of the port while others embrace a state take-over because future grants from federal and state governments are needed to move the port forward – especially in terms of usage and expansion.
Many observers are anticipating somewhat of a “showdown at the OK Corral” type confrontation at the upcoming legislative session. City Manager Spencer Nebel seemed to take sort of a neutral stance on the issue, perhaps realizing that growing pains are seldom pretty. Stay tuned.