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Newport: The Rhododendron at 58th “hedge problem” still unresolved after over two years. And it’s made Rennie mad.

#1 & #2 Rhododendron@58th
#3 Rennie Ferris
#4 Police Chief Mark Miranda
#5 City Manager Jim Voetberg

Supplement to correction of Mr. Ferris’ statement: Newport Fire Department has confirmed this is NO HYDRANT at 58th and Rhododendron. The nearest hydrant is at Briggs and 58th as indicated below.

Correction of Mr. Ferris’ statement relative to a “smothered fire hydrant” quoted in the first paragraph. Hedge owner Gregory Carpenter denies there is a fire hydrant smothered in his hedge that would pose a safety concern for him and his neighbors. NewsLincolnCounty.com went out to Mr. Carpenters hedge and found no evidence there is a hydrant obscured by his hedge but due to the immenseness of the hedge we couldn’t be 100% sure that anything even as large as a fire hydrant might be in there somewhere. The hedge is just too dense and to large to be 100% sure. Mr. Ferris’ allegation of a “smothered fire hydrant” may have stemmed from what he may have mistook for a fire hydrant; actually a utility casing, that might have been obscured by hedge vegetation. The utility casing was only recently clearly revealed after a hedge trimming. However, there IS a fire hydrant at the corner of NW 58th and NW Biggs one block to the east that provides adequate access to water by the fire department in the event of any fire in the area.

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Newport resident Rennie Ferris chastised the city council Monday night for allowing what he called “an unsafe situation’ to continue at NW 58th and Rhododendron streets despite over two years of well documented failure by the property owner to fix the problem. Ferris said despite repeated contact by city law enforcement, the owner of the property has taken only minor steps to trim his huge hedge that reaches out beyond his property line, into the sidewalk area, smothers a fire hydrant and reaches nearly to the street, blocking the view of any driver trying to see if there is any traffic coming. Ferris showed NewsLincolnCounty.com a photograph that shows there is no way a motorist can safely proceed into the intersection of 58th and Rhododendron. To see if any vehicle is coming from the side street you have to actually pull into the intersection in order to see.

Ferris pointed out that the city, through their Community Services Officer Dustin Kittel, has been out to the property many times, and that City Manager Jim Voetberg and Police Chief Mark Miranda have also been involved and yet only token trimmings of the hedge have been done by the property owner. “It’s still a huge hazard,” said Ferris. “How long does it take for this city to enforce its own city ordinances? I’ve talked to Dustin Kittel and he tells me that he was told by the city manager to ‘back off,’ that the situation was being handled. Handled how? It’s still there! It’s still unsafe! Cities that don’t enforce such codes can be held liable by the courts if an accident is caused by willful neglect.”

Police Chief Mark Miranda told the council that the owner had done a small amount of trimming which was a step in the right direction. And because of that progress, it was no longer on the top of the city’s code enforcement list. Mayor Mark McConnell said “Maybe it’s time to put it back on the top of the list.” “We can do that,” replied Miranda.

McConnell turned to Voetberg to explain the situation from his perspective, to which Voetberg replied that he never told Kittels to ‘back off.’ He said the city was still trying to make progress with the property owner.

Ferris told the city council “Somebody’s lying. Kittel told me he was told by the city manager to back off. Who’s lying?”

City Councilor Lon Brusselback reminded the council that the city recently sent what he called “a nice letter” to all city property owners pointing out that obstructing intersections with excessive vegetation is dangerous and illegal. A visibly frustrated Mayor McConnell suddenly said, “We need to go proactive. We shouldn’t force residents to become city code cops and be forced to tattle on their neighbors.” Brusselback agreed, adding he was tired of the same issue coming before the council over and over again.

City Councilor Jeff Bertuleit offered a suggestion that maybe the property owner doesn’t want to be hit with a big dump bill for all his trimmed hedge cuttings. Bertuleit suggested the city send a public works crew to remove them if that might expedite the situation.

The council wrapped up the discussion by promising Rennie Ferris that the issue is now back on top of the city’s “to do” list for code enforcement. Ferris showed them another picture of a situation elsewhere in town that looks to be every bit as bad at the one on Rhododendron and 58th. Chief Miranda said as soon as Community Services Officer Dustin Kittel returns from vacation the issue of visually blocked intersections will be their top code enforcement priority.

In another fire department related matter, the council was told that they will go into an executive session next week to consider the city’s formal offer to buy property in the north end of Newport to serve as a first-ever north Newport area fire station. Response times into that area has meant a low coverage designation for residents and business owners which shows up as higher fire insurance premiums on their policies.

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