The Newport City Council went on the road Monday night, taking a tour of the Agate Beach area, and then later sat down with a crowd of citizens to see if the council’s perceptions of needs accurately reflects those of area residents.
Public Works Director Tim Gross told residents that the long promised larger water storage tank for the area is in the design stages which will soon be followed with construction. But mixed with that message was another that revealed water and sewer rates must continue to rise in order to pay for project improvements and to begin replacing Newport’s very old water and sewer pipes along with pump stations scattered throughout the city. He said it will take much longer to replace the current system than the system will last so there will be costly emergency repairs along the way.
Residents asked Gross about installing an aggressive storm drain system for the Agate Beach area. Gross was cool to the idea saying, in many areas, the geology doesn’t lend itself to such a system since the area sits on bedrock. He said water that comes down from the coastal mountain range flows right through Agate Beach to the sea. Gross said aside from occasional fixes or storm water channeling, there is not much that can be done affordably.
Gross was asked about whether the city could pave some Agate Beach streets that are still gravel. Gross said the city’s entire asphalt budget is $300,000 a year from gas and other taxes. He said $300,000 will pave one city block, which includes street, storm water, curb, gutters, sidewalks and occasional replacement of any sewer or water lines that runs within the street alignment. He and the council acknowledged that the costs for those other things might be avoided since Agate Beach is semi-rural. But even then, he said, paving is very expensive and there are other gravel streets in town that serve major tourism facilities that must also be considered for paving since they are more heavily used.
That brought up the idea of setting up special voter-approved taxing districts for street improvements. But it got a cold shoulder from the audience. However, when residents off NE 56th sought funds to improve their heavily traveled thoroughfare, residents seemed more receptive to the idea when they were told that costs could be spread over many more households since NE 56th serves the entire region. He said the wider the spread of benefits, the wider the spread of those who should pay for them. Gross agreed to develop cost estimates and then convene a mini town hall meeting of his own to discuss how much each household in the new taxing district would pay, assuming enough households were included in the district to make costs affordable.
Another major need that the council and the residents agreed on, was improving access to Agate Beach at Lighthouse and 101. Also for restrooms for surfers who walk to and from the beach from the parking area immediately southwest of the traffic signal. Community Development Director Derrick Tokos said he’s already applied for a big federal grant for all that, including an upgrade to the parking lot adjacent to Roby’s Furniture, improving Gilbert Street and for building a pathway down to the beach just to the west. Tokos said if Newport doesn’t win the federal grant, he would apply for other grants. He said if those don’t come through, he might have to adjust expectations downward to build just the restrooms and the beach pathway, and let the rest wait until more money is made available.