Toledo City Council gets together with the Lincoln County Commission to talk about issues of mutual interest
Correction: OSU Newport Campus to be built in upland area, not on HMSC South Beach property.
On the road with the Lincoln County Commission, which is visiting all the city councils in the county, found them Wednesday night comparing notes on this, that and the other with the Toledo City Council. The conversations ran the gamut from forestry to improvements to Highway 101, from Fairgrounds Renovation to how the forestry departments are treating the county.
From what was exchanged, there didn’t seem to be a lot of blockbuster news to share. Both sides of the table agreed that communication with state of federal forestry officials is a bit troublesome since there is such a high turnover of managers moving through both agencies. Commissioners said the county is lucky it doesn’t depend on the notorious O&C Lands that are such a topic of debate, the center of which is hung up in the Congress as Oregon U.S. Senator Ron Wyden is refining a bill that restores some funding to revenue-stressed southwest Oregon counties. The question is whether the income from timber harvests in one area is transferable to other, more “revenue-challenged areas,” like Curry, Josephine and Douglas counties.
As for the county fairgrounds, commissioners told the Toledo City Council that the future of the facility in Newport is still very much a question mark. A consultant’s investigation as to what will be a productive use of the fairgrounds – whether for agricultural of economic development activities – is still not yet known. Multi-purpose/multi-use facilities at the fairgrounds are still being talked about. Effects of a nearly five year recession is also bound to be causing hiccups in the consultant’s investigative calculus.
Issues surrounding Highway 101 were short and sweet – several projects were mentioned – none of them game-changers for transportation as we know it. Councilors asked about the Beverly Beach area roller-coaster at both ends which ODOT keeps laying new pavement over the top of. Commissioner Doug Hunt remarked that there are probably some engineering innovations that might mirror what’s going on in the Highway 20 Eddyville Bypass project. Be he quickly observed that it remains far cheaper for ODOT to simply keep paving over the lumps as slow motion landslides on both ends of Beverly Beach keep jiggering the pavement.
There were some discussions of a long agitating burr under Toledo’s saddle about which agency is supposed to be maintaining Wagon Wheel Road. Toledo has long claimed that it’s a lingering anomaly of history that the county never turned the road over to the city, so it has remained the county’s responsibility to keep it driveable. But county Public Works Director Jim Buisman produced documents going back to the late 1970s that show that Wagon Wheel Road is NOT a county road. It belongs to Toledo. However, several other minor roads were also brought up with the same contention – Holly Road, Meadow Lane and SE 6th and SE 7th. Buisman said he would look into those.
The questions turned to what the county commissioners consider the biggest challenges facing Lincoln County as a whole. Commissioners said one of the main ones is how to create new jobs in a county that still has a high unemployment rate. They said that the total number of new jobs from NOAA moving to Newport haven’t yet shown up. But they’re coming, commissioners say.
Commissioners say that the county’s three biggest industries, fishing, tourism and marine science research could all use some growth. It was mentioned that OSU wants to build a satellite campus in Newport but far enough upland as to be out of the reach of any tsunami.
They said tourism is a question of advertising and special events to maximize the number of tourists and the revenue they bring to the coast. But there may be some threats to the fishing industry that should be closely monitored and dealt with in a focused and deliberate way – and that is the allocation of ocean space for wave energy devices even though no company has come up with a device that works, or has any meaningful track record in the water.
Commissioner Terry Thompson noted that it’s only right that OSU is setting up a wave energy device testing station several miles off the tip of Newport’s south jetty because it’ll help determine if these devices even work or can produce power that is affordable for customers. He said it makes no sense that commercial and recreational fishermen have already lost fishing grounds to the wave energy industry when the industry hasn’t even shown a single device that works. Lots of talk, but no proof.
Further on the issue of economic development, Toledo City Councilor Jill Lyon noted that the non-profit Lincoln County Economic Alliance is trying to move from a “talk about” economic posture to actually doing something – recruiting new companies to relocate or set up branch operations on the coast. Commissioner Thompson said he thinks Lincoln County cities should start financially supporting the Alliance – so far it’s just been the county. He said it’s got to be a real partnership with cities offering more than just interest.
Commissioner Bill Hall observed that Lincoln County’s fragile economy has been producing more poverty, more homeless, more alcohol and drug abuse, and lots of domestic violence. He said economic instability plays a big role in family instability.
Commissioner Doug Hunt noted that he’s been watching the county budget closely and, as a veteran member of the county’s budget committee, sees the county still barely treading water. He says the county’s revenues are growing by 2 to 3 percent a year while expenses are rising 4 to 5 percent. That’s not sustainable, he said.
Toledo Councilor Michele Johnson said she’s very concerned about the condition of fish that are caught off the U.S. West Coast in light of the damaged Japanese nuclear power plant at Fukushima that suffered a melt down from the 2011 Tsunami and is now leaking radiation into the Pacific Ocean. Commissioner Thompson, who is a commercial fisherman, said that he has not heard of any significant health hazards from eating west coast fish. He said that dilution of six thousand miles of ocean means the radiation is not threat to the U.S. but cautiously added that Blue Fin Tuna, which migrate off the east coast of Japan and make a B-line to the U.S. West Coast are showing a slight increase in certain radiation elements in their flesh. However he’s been told it’s not a concern of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Some checking around by News Lincoln County shows the latest reports on Blue Fin Tuna are that it’s safe to eat and that the radiation readings are still 1/10th the level that could trigger a health threat. Reports also show meticulous testing of Blue Fin Tuna is ongoing by major testing labs just to keep keep up to with the issue. For a recent article on the subject by a reputable news outlet click here.
However Mayor Ralph Grutzmacher reminded Thompson that it’s not truth or good research that makes the headlines – it’s the fear among the public that is too easily whipped up by less than reputable news outlets that are common on the internet. Grutzmacher said he just hopes it doesn’t deter people from eating Pacific-caught seafood or stop visiting the coast. Thompson said he’d do some checking of his own to ascertain the latest and pass it on to the council.