Toledo City Council on water, pool improvements, 9-1-1, wetlands and medical marijuana – and it’s only a workshop!
For it only being a city council workshop, the Toledo City Council covered a breathtaking amount of ground Tuesday evening.
Toledo’s water intake project on the Siletz River:
Readers might remember from an earlier story that Toledo has been planning for years to replace it’s old, and near collapsing, water intake facility on the Siletz River, at the river’s big bend around the town of Siletz. All the plans are in and approved and all permits have been obtained – except for one. And the last one is dragging its feet to the extent the entire project is in jeopardy. To make matters worse, the old intake is in very bad shape, and you’re talking the city’s main source of water, here.
It’s believed that someone on the staff of the National Marine Fisheries Service decided that despite the fact water has been taken from the Siletz River for decades to serve the town of Toledo, there is now a new and compelling need to do a completely new biological assessment on the intake, even if it’s within the same small stretch of river. And the need is supposedly so great that it puts Toledo at risk of a huge water emergency if the construction is not allowed to move forward this “in water” construction year and something happens to the current intake.
Everyone around the council was shaking their head at last week’s city council meeting as they were at last night’s workshop. They still couldn’t understand why a federal agency would threaten a town’s water supply because of staff, hundreds or thousands of miles away determining, out of the blue, that a new assessment was needed. Councilors say that the fisheries service knew two years ago that the town was moving toward an intake replacement, and yet they waited until the last minute to require an additional assessment which stalls the project. It means a full year delay before replacement of the intake can begin because construction in the waterway is allowed for only short periods of time during the year. And they’ll miss the window for a whole year if the fisheries service doesn’t get moving. It would also put the city in default of the financing agreement for the bonds it sold to replace the facility.
Mayor Ralph Grutzmacher and Interim City Manager Don Munkers told the council that phone calls, emails and letters have been sent to Oregon Senator’s Wyden and Merkley and coast Congressman Kurt Schrader, who promptly promised to go to bat for the city. Mayor Grutzmacher said there is time for things to turn around and that the council needs to give the senators and congressman the time they need to get to the bottom of why the fisheries service can’t get the work done over the next two months so the intake can be built this summer. Mayor Grutzmacher appeared confident that everything that can be done, will be done, to put things back on course.
The “9-1-1 moving to Salem” saga continues
Police Chief David Enyeart and Fire Chief Will Ewing gave the council quite a detailed report on the problems the new Salem Dispatch system and the county is having getting the kinks worked out in Lincoln County’s new Narrow Band and Simplex communications system between dispatch operators in Salem and police officers and fire fighters on the coast. Both said it’s part 9-1-1 personnel training, part trying to get new equipment up and running. They said some is running okay, some aren’t. But they keep trying. And they do seem to be making progress.
But both Enyeart and Ewing made it clear there is even less reason for Toledo and Toledo’s system-twin, Lincoln City, to join the WVCC family. Ewing said that with a new simplex system in place, Toledo can dispatch any or all 9 Lincoln County Fire Departments from the Toledo 9-1-1 Dispatch Center located inside their Police Department – and can do it during a moderate emergency – probably even after a big earthquake depending on the armoring of the 9-1-1 radio sites. He said the same technology is being installed for the police and sheriff radios.
Ewing said that Lincoln City and Toledo 9-1-1 centers are electronically inter-connected so that either one can do what the other does. It’s been said that Toledo and Lincoln City dispatch systems are far more advanced than the former Lincoln County Lincom system because, for whatever reason, the Lincom center wasn’t kept as up-to-date as the other two. The irony is that Toledo and Lincoln City police car and fire truck radio computer systems are tied to the WVCC center in Salem. Ewing says another system also ties Toledo and Lincoln City 9-1-1 operations together.
Both Enyeart and Ewing said they weren’t trying to convince anyone to walk away from WVCC but wanted to reassure the council that there is even less reason for Toledo and Lincoln City to shut-down their own 9-1-1 centers and join WVCC. Both Ewing and Enyeart denied an earlier belief that the state is about to reduce the number of 9-1-1 systems around the state meaning that small 9-1-1 centers like Lincoln City and Toledo would be phased out. Both assured the council that although there was once talk of that happening, with technological improvements advancing daily, there is less and less reason to do it. Both re-iterated that local dispatching is still the best way to deliver emergency services.
Can Toledo get ODOT to buy some unused wetlands the city currently owns?
City Councilman Jack Dunaway once again urged his fellow councilors to begin thinking about selling off surplus city-owned property. One of those areas is north of 10th, off East Slope Road – an area that is primarily a wetland. Under state law, if ODOT wants to build a road or highway across a wetland or other environmentally sensitive piece of ground, it must create a parcel either locally or regionally that can make up for the loss. Dunaway said one option might be for ODOT to purchase the city property for such a purpose and then preserve it as a wildlife area, which it pretty much is today. The council said they’re willing to look in to the possibility.
What are reasonable local controls on the sale of Medical Marijuana?
Since they decided against slapping a moratorium on the sale of medical marijuana in Toledo, city councilors are grappling with what restrictions, under state law, they might place on medical marijuana shops being set up within the Toledo city limits. After much discussion the council decided that City Attorney Wes Chadwick should bring back prospective regulations dealing with hours of operation, general appearance of the building containing a dispensary, what land use zone they should be allowed in, etc. Councilor Jill Lyon said the city should be cautious about how restrictive those regulations should be since under state law marijuana is deemed a medicine and it is dispensed under the medical advice of a doctor – as any other pharmacist would find him or herself.. Mayor Grutzmacher said he’s not so concerned about the restrictions. So we await to see what City Attorney Wes Chadwick comes up with.
Would Toledo voters approve a small increase in the gas tax within the city limits?
Taking aim at an over-stretched city road budget, the council once again raised the issue of asking voters to approve a slight increase in the tax rate on gasoline sold within the city limits of Toledo. Despite the lower gas tax rate Grutzmacher noted that Toledo motorists pay the same price or slightly higher than in Newport which has a higher gas tax. “What we’re seeing is Toledo residents paying at a higher rate and not getting the revenue to fix local streets. They’re literally paying the tax and getting nothing for it,” Grutzmacher said. He and a few other councilors said they doubted that Toledo gas retailers would raise their prices just because of the higher gas tax because to do so would price them all the more higher than what is paid in Newport. There was talk of conducting a survey of Toledo voters, either through water bills or inviting residents take a survey on a the popular “SurveyMonkey” feature on the internet to gauge how the vote on a higher gas tax might go.
And how much money should the city spend to determine the life left in the Toledo Municipal Pool?
City Recreation and Aquatics Director Joe Andrews was back before the council seeking permission to hire a firm to figure out how much life the town’s old municipal pool might still have left in it. The council wanted to also know if the council asked the voters to approve funding to fix up the old pool, what would the costs be – and within what area of the pool’s mechanical and structural facility would need fixing the most? Andrews said his department has budgeted $15,000 for such an assessment, but it might not be enough to answer all the questions the council might have. The council asked Andrews to re-engage the firms offering their services as to what a $15,000 to $20,000 investigation might produce as to whether the old pool could be renovated in a cost-effective way.
Some of the above issues will no doubt get more time and attention at the next regular Toledo City Council meeting on May 21st, 7pm, at city hall.