NEWPORT — Lincoln County Sheriff Curtis Landers presented county commissioners with an update on the status of the Lincoln County Animal Shelter at the commissioners’ meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 15.
First, Landers told the commissioners the shelter is fully operational in its temporary location. Staff and animals are now located in modular buildings that were placed on the site of the old shelter building, which had to be torn down when mold was discovered last year.
Landers noted that fencing is in, and while the shelter is not at the level it was before, finishing touches are being done that make it a good, temporary solution to serve the public and the animals.
Commissioner Katey Jacobson acknowledged the shelter staff in attendance. “You guys have really been through the wringer,” she said. “Thank you. I know it has been a challenging time.”
County Attorney Wayne Belmont pointed out that the temporary, modular buildings in use by the shelter were purchased as assets that can be utilized in future development. He also clarified that no money from the animal services budget was used. The approximately $225,000 was procured from other county funds.
Jacobson said the search for a permanent home for the shelter has been difficult.
“There was never a long list,” she said. “Zoning remains very challenging.”
Belmont told the commissioners the search for adequate space with proper zoning led to reaching out to neighboring cities to see if they might have suitable land available. Possibilities include a site in the industrial area of Waldport, as well as property owned by the City of Newport at the south end of the Newport Municipal Airport.
Belmont described how the airport site might meet the shelter’s needs, then listed some disadvantages of the site and how those might be addressed. He indicated it might be the best option available if it proves feasible upon investigation and discussion with Newport City Council.
Jacobson noted that it is very early in the process, that this property is one they want to explore and that the first step is a discussion with city council on January 21. Also, she indicated they are still open to other location options that might become available.
“We’re hoping by the end of February to have exact numbers on the type of budget we have,” Jacobson said of the timeline. “I am hopeful that we have enough to build a new shelter that has at least the capacity we used to have.”
Citizens making comments to the commission were critical of past events and demanded action. Some were visibly emotional as they spoke.
Kathy Minta cited a lack of transparency in the six months since the shelter building was torn down, and she provided a list of professionals she felt need to be involved in the design and construction of a humane shelter.
Emily DeHuff, president of the board of directors of Friends of Lincoln County Animals, said, “I confess to having a strong sense of déjà vu, having been in this same room in April 2009 when we heard that the shelter was going to be closed to the public because of the funding shortfall as a result of the national economic collapse.”
DeHuff continued, “The shelter was experiencing an existential crisis at that time, and that’s when FOLCAS was formed, in response to that, to rally the community. The community needs to rally again now.” She admonished the commissioners with a saying of her mother was fond of, “Don’t sprain your arm patting yourself on the back.”
DeHuff added, “I feel that the county is looking a little bit too much at the accomplishments in meeting the current emergency, which are considerable, but really not acknowledging sufficiently, in my view, that it needn’t have come to this if the warnings of the shelter director, of at least the last five years or more, had been heeded in a more timely manner.”
DeHuff said she has the impression the county doesn’t sufficiently prioritize the needs of both the animal shelter and a human shelter need, citing the death of a local homeless man and calling out the lack of a human shelter in Lincoln County.
“I’ve been distressed to see the county’s obligations or perceived obligations to the farmers market given a higher priority than the needs of the animals in the shelter, more priority than the needs of the humans who are exposed to the elements in some very, very inclement weather,” DeHuff exclaimed.
During the winter months, the farmers market operates in the main exhibit hall at the Lincoln County Commons, which is also where an emergency warming shelter is housed several nights each week, and where the animal shelter was temporarily located before being moved into the modular buildings.
“That’s a misconception,” said Landers when asked to respond to citizen concerns of the Newport Farmers Market being prioritized over the animal shelter. “As far as I know, they weren’t putting pressure on anyone to move.
“It wasn’t the best situation to have them at the fairgrounds,” added Landers of the animal shelter, saying it seemed like a good opportunity to move. He pointed out that while hindsight is always clear, it’s been a difficult situation, but the goal remains to serve the citizens and the animals of Lincoln County.
“I hope from here on out you do take every opportunity to prioritize the needs of the animal shelter and humans,” DeHuff imparted to county commissioners. She also noted that FOLCAS wants to assist in fundraising to ensure that an adequate shelter facility is built in the county.