Some Newport Bayfront business owners told the city council Monday that the sea lion dock on the Bayfront cannot be allowed to simply disappear or tourism will suffer along the Newport waterfront. Bayscapes Gallery and Coffee Shop owner Stan Pickens said whether intended or not, the sea lions have become a major tourist draw throughout the region and that the deterioration of the docks they carouse and sleep on is a threat to their continued easy access by tourists. Pickens told the council that the Bayfront Merchants Association has raised six thousand dollars over the recent past toward preserving the animals’ perch but have been told by the Port of Newport that to replace the docks will take upwards of $75,000. Pickens asked the city for the money. In response city councilors said they acknowledge that the sea going mammals are quite a draw for the Bayfront but that the property belongs to the port and that the original intent on those docks was to provide easy access to the Bayfront by transient boaters who moored across the bay at the South Beach Marina. However, the access never caught on and eventually the sea lions took over.
Pickens said the Port of Newport does not appear to be willing to fund new docks for the sea lions, so it’s imperative that the council help preserve one of the most popular tourist attractions on the Bayfront.
Reactions were mixed, with councilor Jeff Bertuleit suggesting fundraising among Bayfront business owners. Councilor David Allen suggested that the merchants apply for a grant from the city’s tourism facilities fund which currently has a million dollars in it, although three major tourism institutions may have three-quarters of it nailed down. Pickens was told that an application for funding would be welcomed and that the city council may consider adding to the fund with more hotel/motel room tax dollars. Allen said the issue may arise in the upcoming city budget process for next fiscal year.