Local government officials told Congressman Kurt Schrader that while they appreciate his support in Congress for many important local issues, they’re still not solved, including insufficient storm aid from FEMA, what appears a “ganging up” on Depoe Bay in fishery restrictions, insufficient support for local schools and roads, immigration reform and the handling of alien prisoners in county jails, lack of support for local community colleges which are key to the country’s economic future and a lack of funding for public outreach for awareness and preparedness for natural disasters yet to come, including the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake and the tsunami it will likely produce.
Lincoln County Emergency Services Manager Jenny Demaris complained to Congressman Schrader that although FEMA is very helpful paying big dollars to fix local roads and other public infrastructure, private property losses were waved aside; no help at all for them. Not even giving property owners a shot at low interest government loans. She said that it’s arbitrary when Marion County, and all counties that shared a common border with Marion County got access to those for their private property owners but other counties were shut out, including Lincoln which had a number of residential and farming properties hit hard. Schrader said the exclusion made no sense to him either and that he’ll do what he can to get to the bottom of it and do what he can to change it.
Depoe Bay Mayor Carol Connors complained that with federal and state fishing restrictions north and south of Depoe Bay, with more on the way under the state’s Territorial Plan, “It seems like everybody’s ganging up on our town. Not only with fisheries but also with our July 3rd Fireworks event.” Mayor Connors said “It seems like whether it’s fish or birds, people are coming out last. It’s strangling Depoe Bay.” Schrader said he wouldn’t frame the issues quite that way because he believes there is a way to have both; it just takes a little bit of hard thinking and flexibility on both sides. Newport City Councilor David Allen chimed in urging Mayor Connors to ensure Depoe Bay officials are at the table when discussions take place over the final plan on what is or isn’t allowed off Oregon’s shores. He said Depoe Bay’s complaints about fishery restrictions are valid and that if Depoe Bay presses its case hard enough, the town should get a fair shake.
Sheriff Dennis Dotson had a bone to pick with the way the federal immigration rules are forcing local law enforcement to determine whether someone is in the country legally. Dotson says it pits local law enforcement which, due to limited manpower, cannot effectively handle immigration issues, issues that are civil in nature, not criminal. The issue has split the country’s law enforcement community into various factions of gradated cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Congressman Schrader said he knows full well what Sheriff Dotson is talking about, to which Sheriff Dotson said, “Fine, fix it!” Both laughed knowing that it is a national issue that has yet to find a way to a workable solution for both local law enforcement and ICE.
County Commissioner Bill Hall told Congressman Schrader, as did Lincoln County School Board member Ron Beck, that federal support for general county operations for roads, sheriff’s office, mental health and other socials services and schools has fallen dramatically and that rural counties across the country and across Oregon are facing unimaginable cuts in those services because of a drop off in revenues from federal timber – they’re not cutting any, or very little. Schrader responded that a compromise to keep special aid flowing appeared to be launched earlier in the year, but then politics shot it down. He said Congress understands the issue but has yet to find a way to keep the money flowing while lawmakers and federal agencies develop a long term funding solution.
Oregon Coast Community College Bruce Koike asked Congressman Schrader to do what he can to help support community colleges everywhere in that it’s the community colleges that are trying to mobilize to retrain America’s workforce. He said with state and federal support falling, it’s forced community colleges to raise tuition to the extent it drives away the people who need their skill sets upgraded the most. Koike lamented that “It’s frustrating when community colleges exist to empower communities and yet they can’t do their jobs.” Schrader said he sympathized with Koike’s predicament and those of his fellow college leaders, adding, “Washington DC has become so polarized that it’s hard to get much movement on critical issues, plus it’s an election year.”
Toward the end of the meeting Lincoln County Emergency Services Manager Jenny Demaris got back into the conversation challenging Congressman Schrader to help her better prepare Lincoln and other counties for the eventual major earthquake triggered by the offshore Cascadia Subduction Zone and the tsunami it will generate. She said educating the public about earthquake preparedness and surviving a large tsunami takes time, manpower and money, none of which rural counties have much of these days. Schrader said he sympathizes with Demaris’ frustration and promised to look into the issue. But he also lamented that Washington tends to label, as critically important, Gulf Coast programs that are necessary to cope with the effects of hurricanes, but views support for programs like public outreach for rural Oregon as an earmark. “And you know what they say about earmarks, back there,” he added.
On the plus side, Lincoln City Mayor Dick Anderson had praise for Federal Department of Transportation officials granting ODOT greater flexibility in the design for widening Highway 101 through Lincoln City’s Nelscott area. Newport Fire Chief Phil Paige had praise for flexibility in federal grants that help to better staff local fire departments. City Manager Jim Voetberg said local officials are working with FEMA to redefine the boundaries of tsunami inundation areas; bringing them up to date and up to where research says they should be, and County Commissioner Don Lindly said he’s hopeful that the Highway 20 upgrade can get moving again so federal support dollars in the project don’t stagnate. Schrader surprised the room when he responded by saying that he’s been talking with ODOT officials and that negotiations are producing some workable engineering fixes. Schrader said he’s optimistic that work on the project can resume soon without busting the budget. He said there have been offsetting savings on other elements of the project.
And with that Congressman Schrader was roundly applauded for meeting with local leaders and gaining clarity on local issues. Each wished the other “good luck” in getting something done while, again, admitting it might be hard in an election year.