Newport City Council: Teaming up with AirBnB, Sewage Spills, Fortifying NFD HQ, Aquatic Center Update, and Pesticide Spraying Controversy
Newport City Councilors Monday night decided to allow the vacation rental booking giant AirBnB to collect the town’s hotel-motel room tax on properties that aren’t signed up with the city to rent rooms in their homes or apartments. Right now there are about 150 such rentals that the city knows about because they have a business license and so the city collects that tax.
But, like many people, the council figures there are a lot of AirBnB rentals operating “out there” that operate without a business license and so are NOT signed up with the city. So councilors took AirBnB up on their offer to collect the city’s room tax on prroperties listed with them. But part of the deal is that AirBnB won’t divulge who their booking clients are and so the city will simply get a monthly check from AirBnB without revealing who their clients are. No estimate yet on what the room tax boost might add up to.
City gets hit with DEQ fine
As everyone knows, this past winter was a tough one for Oregon, but especially tough for the coast where rain came down in terms of feet, rather than just a lot of inches. And with all that rain getting into the city’s sewer system, certain sections overflowed and diluted sewage was sent down Nye Creek, Big Creek, Schooner Creek and Agate Creek.
One of those overflows didn’t get reported right away to the State Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and so that triggered a nasty fine for the city. City Public Works Director Tim Gross told the council that DEQ over-reacted – that the minute they knew the huge rainfall event had triggered the spill, they sent crews out to post signs saying there’s been a spill at such and such a beach and to be forewarned about walking across any creeks that empty out onto an affected beach. That part of the public notification part was performed. But because there was a new city technician working the weekend shift, he thought the warning signs on the beach was enough. But of course it wasn’t. He had to notify the DEQ as well – but he didn’t because he didn’t know. So when DEQ was eventually notified, the city got hit with a fine.
Gross said it was the first such fine in years against the city because the city, up until then, was Johnny-on-the-spot to DEQ with notifications if anything went wrong. Sewer spills are common along the Oregon Coast because cities and counties have very old sewer collection systems that date back 50 or more years, back when local governments got financial assistance from the federal government. But that assistance has tapered off over the years, and it’s forced local sewer and water operators to scrounge for what state or federal grant money might still be out there.
Gross wrote a letter to DEQ telling them of the millions of dollars that Newport has spent over the last ten years on their sewer collection system and how they’re on the verge of bringing a big part of it up to snuff. Gross said the city’s mistake did not change anything in terms of notifying the public and taking note of the completely unavoidable overflow. The problem was in sending an email a little late to the DEQ.
In the end, the city settled with DEQ and is paying a $22,400 fine with DEQ agreeing to not fine them again as long as sewer upgrades, as outlined by the city, stay on schedule.
Fire Department given green light on renovation to Main fire station
A long-awaited green light to stiffin Newport Fire Department’s headquarters building against “The big One” was awarded Monday night. The nearly $1.5 million dollar project that will re-fortify the building just off Nye and NW 10th was approved by the city council on a unanimous vote. The planned renovation to the building was originally priced much higher, so the city had to take a very sharp pencil and start trimming it down. Fire Chief Rob Murphy the lower figure will work based on the way he and the architects did some corner-cutting – but not so much that it would substantially affect the building’s susceptiblity to a large Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.
Chief Murphy told the council that when the project is launched, the fire department will have to move out of the building – administration to the north station, equipment scattered between the old sewer plant and fire training center and the Newport Airport station. No project start date has yet been formally announced.
Hopefully the last “Change Order” for the new Newport Aquatic Center
The council got hit with a couple of change orders on the town’s new Aquatic Center. The $86,000 bump in price for construction was blamed on some overlooked items on the original list of ingredients, not the least of which link the new pool with the City Recreation Center right next door. It wasn’t because they had forgotten that stuff, but rather there were changes that had been made to the new pool, that made the original link-up of the two buildings more challenging than they envisioned. The council voted unanimously for the price bump.
To aerial spray pesticides or not to aerial spray pesticides – that is a question for the May ballot
And finally, there were a few citizens at the city council meeting that wanted the council to oppose Measure 21-177 – the big anti-aerial spraying measure on the May ballot. A few residents told the council that the voter initiative is poorly written and if passed at the polls May 16th, will hurt the county’s economy including the area’s two major ports. They contended that the measure would throw the county into chaos due to allowing individual citizens to file complaints against many businesses that work on and for the Newport fishing fleet and other industrial operations in the region.
The council said it would schedule a public comment session at the next city council meeting to get a feel of how Newport residents weigh in on the issue.
Supporters of the measure say 21-177 merely protects the rights of Lincoln County residents to live in peace, without fear of overhead pesticide spray helicopters – some of which has contributed to the polluting of salmon and trout streams along with human health. Spray victims contend that pesticides can “drift” in the air from where they are released by a helicopter or airplane. They say if a ban on aerial spraying is good enough for the U.S. Forest Service, it’s probably good enough for the rest of Oregon’s private lands. Aerial pesticide spraying is state regulated for state lands and private timber companies. There is going to be a lot of smoke and fire on this issue.