Saturday, November 26, 2022

Opportunities on the Coast

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

 

Over the course of four years, I worked with Dr. Bruce Mate at the Marine Mammal Institute to authorize a Coastal Playground gray whale license plate. Eventually, we developed a strategy to address the new Department of Motor Vehicle requirements and the license plate, which features the image of a gray whale mother and her calf, went on sale on February 1, 2019. The plates cost $40 to order or renew, with approximately $35 of each sale going to OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute based at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

Today there are more than 25,000 Whale Plates in Oregon and more than $1 million has come to the Marine Science Center supporting graduate students and research covering everything from porpoise communications to the effect of wind energy on whale migrations.

 

Saturday, staff, students and donors gathered to celebrate at the Gladys Valley Marine Studies Building in Newport. It was a remarkable in-person opportunity to meet students, visit laboratories, and tour what is emerging as the leading institution of marine mammal research on the planet.

 

We also briefly explored Yaquina Bay aboard the research vessel Pacific Storm. During the pandemic, the vessel could not go to sea or receive research grants. But overhead and maintenance expenses continued. In 2021 I secured $350,000 in ARPA dollars to offset those expenses and continue the good work being done here.

Many portions of the coast are suffering economically, perhaps none more than Coos County where changes in the lumber industry have decimated communities and tax revenues, and where many working-age locals have moved away. Coos County was the sixth poorest county in Oregon, according to 2020 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, with 16.1% of residents living below the federal poverty rate.

 

The Port of Coos Bay is now pursuing a $2 billion plan for a major shipping container terminal that could bring all manner of imports to the Pacific Northwest and then the rest of the continent, and send Oregon crops and other exports overseas. It could employ 2,500 workers to load and unload as many as 1.2 million shipping containers a year.

 

Trips to and from major ports in Asia, like Shanghai and Yokohama, are nearly 700 miles closer to Coos Bay than Los Angeles-Long Beach. Oregon currently offers container shipping at the Port of Portland, but that location has suffered a number of challenges. Coos Bay could support the larger contemporary vessels that cannot traverse the Columbia River from Astoria to Portland.

 

Coos Bay has long been looking for a new line of business to help make up for the timber industry’s decline. Most recently, a proposal for a liquefied natural gas terminal and pipeline failed to win supporters. As the Jordan Cove Energy Project grew less and less likely, priority shifted to the container terminal. Key to the proposal is a short rail line that connects to the national freight network in Eugene.

 

Container shipping forms the backbone of modern global trade. Standardized, stackable boxes go back and forth across the seas, carrying a load of electronics bound for stores one way and agricultural products back.

 

The container shipping site is still waiting on a construction permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, a process that began in 2017. Once approved, project leaders anticipate the terminal would be able to take its first load of cargo within two years.

 

The Coos Bay channel will also need to be widened and deepened to accommodate massive modern cargo ships, the largest of which can be 1,300 feet long. That will cost between $350 million to $400 million.

 

Information for this report was found in this story from the Oregonian.

Affordable housing remains one of our primary challenges across Oregon and acutely here in our district. Oregon has one of the highest homeless rates in the U.S., with more than 14,600 people needing stable housing in 2020, a rate of 2.5%.

 

Josh Lehner, from the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, told members of the House Interim Committee on Housing on Wednesday that the increased gap isn’t so much because of a big boom in population. Oregon’s population has stayed relatively steady during the pandemic, but household size dropped and the number of households boomed. The new housing units did not meet the increased demand.

 

Lehrer listed items that he said would help close the gap – increasing land availability, turning that land into buildable lots more quickly, allowing more units to be built, and decreasing or stabilizing development costs. But he focused on another issue – increasing the construction workforce, in both the private and public sectors. “If we want to build more units, we have to have more workers,” he said.

 

Oregon needs 13,000 more construction workers per year to help close the housing gap. Finding those workers in a tight labor market will be challenging. City and county planning departments also will need 400-500 additional public sector employees to approve, permit and inspect these additional housing units.

 

Other speakers at Wednesday’s hearing touched on different areas of the housing crunch, such as barriers to developing housing, the importance of preserving existing affordable housing, and programs meant to aid people who are unsheltered.

 

One bright spot statewide and locally is Project Turnkey, which has provided funding to turn underused hotels and motels throughout the state into shelters for the homeless. The project has added 867 units statewide. A second round of funding for the project has been approved.

 

Click here for more information from the Capital Chronicle.

 

Meanwhile, rents are surging across Oregon. A measure passed in 2019 capped annual rent increases to 7% plus inflation. But then came the inflation of 2022. And under the formula of Senate Bill 608, landlords in 2023 may raise their rent up to 14.6%, the state announced last week.

 

The measure also prohibits landlords from terminating month-to-month tenancy without cause. And while it was sponsored by my party leadership, I voted “no”, believing it would discourage new housing investment here and make workforce housing scarcer rather than more affordable.

 

An editorial in the Oregonian this week acknowledges that the long-term solution is increased supply to reduce costs and that Oregon simply needs more housing across the board. “That means we need our state and local governments to amend land-use policies to make housing development easier, streamline notoriously cumbersome permitting processes and lower taxes or unnecessary requirements that depress development.” Oregonians, too, must play a part in easing the housing crisis, most critically by accepting higher-density developments in neighborhoods.

 

Keep in mind that landlords do not have to raise the rent at all, much less to 14.6%. Landlords would be wise to keep increases to the bare minimum necessary.

Thursday I joined recreation volunteers and park users at the site of the Taft Sport Complex in Lincoln City. We brought home $1 million to jump-start the program and more recently, $750,000 from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) for the continued development of this new 6.71-acre community resource in the historic Taft District.

 

This was one of 18 ports, parks, water and sewer systems, and public buildings we supported across the district in the past two years.

 

A major new recreation space will expand opportunities for our kids, enhance livability, and support tourism by providing space for regional events. I was pleased to see the space already in use as plans for development move forward. Thanks to all involved in this vision.

Monday night I’ll leave the coast with a delegation from Newport and fly to Washington DC. Our goal is to wrap up funding for a new dam and water supply which would replace the Big Creek Dams.

 

Regular readers will know that our earthen dams serving Newport have exceeded their planned lifespan and have weakened to a point where even a minor seismic event could cause catastrophic failure. With a housing community less than a mile downhill and Highway 101 just beyond, a dam breach would cost lives and cut our major transportation route indefinitely. Without water, our tourism industry, fish processing, breweries, and scientific research centers would close. It would take the central coast a generation to recover.

 

The Big Creek Dams are listed as the most fragile and vulnerable in the state. Newport has already committed $6 million. I then convinced our legislature to invest $14 million more in planning, permitting, and a start to the work. But this is an $80 million project and we will need federal help to cover necessary costs.

 

The U.S. House of Representatives voted to approve a bill that includes $60 million in funding for replacing Newport’s Big Creek dams. The bill is now in the Senate, whose Committee on Environment and Public Works earlier approved a version that did not include our dams. Our goal for this trip is to convince Senate leaders to add the House amendments before the end of the year.

 

Wish us well as we meet with key decision-makers in the next few days.

Warm Regards,
Representative David Gomberg

House District 10

To get in touch with my legislative office, please e-mail [email protected]

Oregon House Rep. David Gomberg
Oregon House Rep. David Gomberghttps://www.oregonlegislature.gov/gomberg
David Gomberg (D-Otis) represents House District 10, which includes Yachats, north to Tillamook along the coast, and inland as far as Sheridan and Falls City to the east.

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