Saving South Beach, a Ban-the-Bag election, the future of the Newport Library, getting Walgreens built, a new park for Newport and finishing up pay raises for city workers.
Moving ahead on a more welcoming Safe Haven Hill
Newport City Councilors Monday night decided to spend no more than $20,000 making Safe Haven Hill more capable of holding lots of tsunami refugees should the big one hit Newport in the near future. Workers at Rogue Brewery, NOAA, Hatfield Marine Science Center, Oregon Coast Aquarium and many South Beach businesses and residents are relying on the big hill, just off the south end of the Yaquina Bay Bridge, to be their life saver in the event of a big earthquake.
The city has applied for a half million dollar FEMA grant to clear the hilltop and to stockpile emergency food supplies for those at South Beach who manage to get up Safe Haven Hill before a Cascadia Earthquake sends a thirty to fifty foot wall of water onto Oregon beaches and up the bays. City councilors gave the green light to city staff to begin further clearing, grading and improving a large pathway running up the south side of the hill so folks can move more quickly to safety. Community Development Director Derrick Tokos said they are still waiting to hear back from FEMA on whether the city got the grant that will enable Newport to get the whole project done.
Asking Newport voters on whether to ban plastic bags
The Newport City Council decided to launch a May ballot issue asking Newport voters if they would like to ban single-use plastic shopping bags. City Manager Jim Voetberg said if they want to get it on the May ballot they’ll have to adopt a resolution by their February 19th city council meeting and then send the ballot proposal to the city attorney in Eugene for formal approval on the wording, ballot statement and other information. The ballot issue mirrors a bag ban adopted in Corvallis where the council there outlawed plastic bags except for meats, produce and other raw foods. The Corvallis City Council also slapped a five cent fee on paper bags – all in an effort to drive the public to use reusable cloth bags.
Planning for a bigger and better Newport Library
Newport Public Library Board Chair Carol Ruggeri asked for the City Council’s support in helping the library apply for grants to figure out how the library is doing at serving the community and how it might do a better job in the future. She said the library wants to take a fearless look at itself from the standpoint of how the community views the library, whether it’s offering sufficient technological services like internet other high-tech services, and whether the facility as a whole is meeting the needs of the community. Ruggeri said a comprehensive assessment of the library’s strengths and weaknesses can be done in a very comprehensive way for about $70,000, most of which they hope will be covered by grants. However, in order to win the grants Ruggeri said the city would have to show its support by pledging money of its own – like $30,000. “And the sooner we get the money pledged, the better,” she said.
Mayor Mark McConnell and the rest of the council expressed support for the idea but reminded Ruggeri that the city has a formal budget planning process that doesn’t get into full swing until January and February and that the budget isn’t formally adopted until spring. Ruggeri said she and her board fully appreciates the situation but asked that the council go on record as wanting the city’s budget committee, of which city councilors are members, to commit to considering the proposal. Ruggeri got a unanimous vote of approval for her request that they talk about it in committe – a manuver that was widely interpreted as “somehow we’ll get you the money.”
Walgreens finally moving forward?
The city council, getting a little anxious about just when Walgreens intends to build their new drug store at Highway 101 at 20, agreed to help them move things along a little faster. Walgreens ran into some state Department of Environmental Quality issues centered around soils that were under what used to be a gas station there on the corner. Lately, Walgreens’ financing source made a last minute demand that the city abandon a block of NE 1st in order to accomodate the construction of the new store. The council last night did just. But the council also granted another request that if the store was not built, the city would take that block of NE 1st back. So, the net effect is that Walgreens can now expeditiously move ahead on building their new facility that has been hanging fire for the better part of a year at a very prominent spot in town. Some residents have speculated that Walgreens hit a fatal snag and won’t be built it. But city officials continue to say “not to worry, they’re moving ahead on construction as everyone one will soon see.”
Planning for those logging trucks coming down Moore Drive
A joint Newport-Port of Newport task force, charged with making safety improvements to accommodate fully-loaded logging trucks bound for the soon-to-open International Terminal on Bay Boulevard, gave a detailed report on how they’re accomplishing that. They said they’re recommending changes on Highway 20, SE Moore Drive and on Bay Boulevard.
Task force members said they are recommending to ODOT that traffic is slowed down on westbound Highway 20 at the top of the hill just east of Newport from 55 mph to 45 mph. And then quickly after that, slow traffic down further to 30 mph so trucks loaded with logs can actually decelerate fast enough to comfortably make their southerly turn onto SE Moore Drive.
They also reported that the left turn lane off of Highway 20 to SE Moore needs to be longer, so more trucks can fit in the que to turn left and to widen the turning radius so trucks can make the southerly turn more safely.
They also want all parking removed from SE Moore from not only near 20 but clear down to the driveway entrances to the Elks Club. They also want youth sports parents to park their vehicles on Yaquina View School property, not on Moore Drive.
Further down the hill, they want a left turn lane created so traffic headed for Oregon Coast Bank can make a safe turn into the bank. And another left turn off of Bay Boulevard into the bank.
At the bottom of the hill where Moore intersects with Bay Boulevard, logging trucks headed down Moore would make a free left turn onto Bay Boulevard and Pacific Fish Company trucks would make a free right turn onto Bay Boulevard heading for the Bayfront. Regular traffic headed east on Bay Boulevard would be stopping at Moore Road, but at an angle fro which they can see uphill toward oncoming traffic. Their stop sign would be brightly lit with LED’s with a sign underneath that says “Downhill traffic does not stop.” Traffic headed west on Bay Boulevard would stop at the intersection but traffic headed west on Bay headed heading north would turn uphill onto Moore without stopping.
Task force members cautioned that ODOT has to approve of some of these suggested changes but that they are optimistic that ODOT will accommodate their requests. They said that fully-loaded logging trucks are expected to start rolling down
Moore Road sometime this late spring or summer. Some time after the first of the year the task force will begin working on their goial of trying to establish a more direct route to the International Terminal that doesn’t use SE Moore Drive. They say that’s going to take a few years.
Newport City Councilors formally established Newport’s newest addition to its list of city parks – “Forest Park” that runs north from the city swimming pool to near Big Creek Road and east to the city water tanks. It’s nearly 100 acres of fairly mature coastal woods with a wide variety of coastal plants and animals – even occasional spawning salmon. Forest Park was first envisioned by former City Manager Don Davis who made it possible by setting it aside from development.
Mark Saelens and Chuck Willer from the Oregon Coast Community Forest Association praised the city’s move to create such a magnificent addition to Newport’s park portfolio. Saelens said that although the area already has a few trails winding through it, the park is so large that other trails would be a welcomed addition. He suggested a shelter be built for those times when hikers or families get caught in a coastal downpour. Interpretive signs could be installed revealing the complexities of Oregon’s coastal rainforest ecology. Saelens said his organization looks forward to working with the city to make Forest Park a truly enjoyable addition to Newport’s parks and recreation system. Other conservation organizations are expected to join in as well to enumerate the park’s assets and to establish uses that promote and celebrates Forest Park’s ecological and recreation values to the community and to its visitors.
City employee labor contracts ratified
And the city council finally wrapped up all it’s employee labor contracts for the next two to three years. Raises for public works, police and fire fighters will come only in the form of cost of living increases, or COLA’s as their called. The council gave firefighters a six percent cola raise through January of 2014. Public Works workers got an eight percent cola raise through the end of 2014. And police officers received a seven percent cola raise through July of 2014.
However, some councilors expressed disappointment that the police officers turned down a plan agreed to by all other city workers for higher health insurance deductibles in return for city-provided health savings accounts that the city pays in to. The officers reportedly would have nothing of it. City Councilor David Allen expressed his disappointment that everyone but the police department has joined the effort to help reduce health care costs for the city. He asked City Manager Jim Voetberg to try to convince the officers next year after they’ve seen how the new arrangement works for the rest of the city work force.
Non-union workers received roughly the same pay and benefit enhancements as union members.