Goodbye 2019

A Cessna 172 Skyhawk, owned by Newport Mayor Dean Sawyer, crash-landed on the beach in early July, resulting in injuries but no fatalities. (Photo by Jeremy Burke)

The year in review: 2019 in Lincoln County

Lincoln County faced tragedies and triumphs across the last 12 months, with surprises around every corner in every part of the county. But before we dive into the new year, the News-Times invites our readers to look back on some of the biggest stories to come out of Lincoln County in 2019:

 Three die in crab boat wreck

On the evening of Jan. 8, the Fishing Vessel Mary B II was overcome by 16-foot breakers as the boat and its crew attempted to cross over the bar to escape a building storm. The vessel had been under escort by the 52-foot Motor Lifeboat Victory, manned by Coast Guard members from Station Yaquina Bay, but was unable to make the trip safely. The accident cost the three crew members their lives: Joshua Porter, 50, of Toledo; James Lacey, 48, of South Toms River, N.J.; and Captain Stephen Biernacki, 50, of Barnegat Township, N.J. A Coast Guard hearing and a personal settlement for the families of the victims followed the wreck.

 Port fights state takeover

On Jan. 16, the Port of Newport adopted a resolution opposing House Bill 2284, which would have placed the port under state control. After months of discussion among both the port commissioners and state legislators — as well as a public hearing — on April 25, Rep. David Gomberg (OR-5) said that the bill wasn’t like to progress any further. The port remains under local control and the bill has remained in committee upon adjournment since June 30.

 New Samaritan hospital opens in Newport

On Jan. 25, Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital opened its new building, which began construction in July 17. The three-story structure is the first addition to the hospital in 30 years. The new structure was funded by a $57 million dollar tax levy passed by voters of the Pacific Communities Health District in 2015. Construction is not yet over for the hospital, as there is more building and some demolition still to come.

 Depoe Bay, North Lincoln fire districts begin consolidation

In February, the boards of directors for Depoe Bay Fire District and North Lincoln Fire & Rescue met and agreed to begin down the long road of consolidating the two districts. In the months since, the two boards and the chiefs have met with specialists for more information to consider and recently began the hiring process for a firefighter who would work with both districts. The News-Times will continue to monitor this story in 2020.

 Depoe Bay faces financial scandal

On March 13, the News-Times reported on the events which had unfolded since the firing of City Recorder Jeff Wiseman on Nov. 20, 2018. The city missed the December 2018 audit deadline, in addition to failing to file payroll reports on time to the Oregon Department of Revenue. The city hired the services of the Oregon Cascade West Council of Governments to handle day-to-day operations, as well as contracting the help of previous city recorder Pery Murray to aid in rebalancing the city’s books. In September, the city lost its credit rating with Moody’s Investors Service and was notified that the state would withhold a percentage of the city’s revenues until it receives the city’s 2018 audit report. The News-Times will continue to monitor this story in 2020.

 Newport bypasses voters for plastic bag ban

On April 15, Newport became the eighth city in Oregon to pass an ordinance outlawing single-use plastic bags, most often seen at grocery stores or for take-out food orders. The council’s 4-2 vote passing the ordinance was met with protest from many citizens, who stated the council was dismissing the opinion of the public. Newport voters slapped down a similar ordinance in a 2013 election. However, the state passed its own plastic bag ban during the legislative session, and Gov. Kate Brown signed it into law in June, which meant either amending the local law to match the state’s or repealing Newport’s ordinance entirely.

 Carbon monoxide investigation at Crestview Heights

In April, Lincoln County Health and Human Services Department launched an investigation into noxious odors at Crestview Elementary School in Waldport after at least 14 students were treated and tested at Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital for carbon monoxide exposure. In January, the school closed due to a lingering diesel smell from the boiler and the following month had an independent air-quality test performed in addition to installing new carbon monoxide detectors. But the issues continued, and many parents protested at a school board meeting while others pulled their children from the school entirely out of concern.

 City talks Big Creek Dams failure

On June 7, the News-Times wrote about the potential failure of the Big Creek dams in the event of a Cascadia earthquake and what it would mean for the surrounding communities. The city was just beginning to pursue funds to build a new dam, but suggestions in the months since have included repairing the old dam, partnering with other communities and building a new dam independently. House Bill 5050 provided provisions which would provide $4 million to aid the city in repairing and rebuilding the dam — which Gov. Kate Brown considered vetoing in August but rethought that decision. Dean Sawyer traveled to Washington D.C. this fall in an effort to secure more funding for the project.

 Newport mayor crash-lands plane

A plane piloted by Newport Mayor Dean Sawyer, 66, crash-landed on the beach near Yaquina Bay State Park in Newport just after 5 p.m. on July 8, with two additional passengers inside: Deborah Reasoner, 61, of Molalla, and a seven-year-old child. Per initial reports, no life-threatening resulted, though Reasoner was transported by helicopter for medical care. Reasoner filed a suit against Sawyer for $1 million on July 16, which is still open.

 Change of command at Coast Guard Station Depoe Bay

On July 12, Christopher Hinote was promoted to the rank of Master Chief and was relieved of his duties as officer in charge of Coast Guard Station Depoe Bay. Hinote, a 25-year member of the Coast Guard, began his tenure in Depoe Bay almost exactly two years prior, on July 14, 2017, and was ordered to report next to Station Humboldt Bay in Eureka, Calif. His successor, Senior Chief Adam Murray, was previously stationed at Coast Guard Station Cape Cod Canal in Massachusetts.

 Animal shelter seeks new home

On July 15, the Lincoln County Animal Shelter’s building was determined to be unfit for human and animal occupancy following a building inspection which showed toxic levels of dangerous mold throughout the structure. After meeting with specialists, shelter leadership announced the building was beyond remediation, and they began to seek a new location for the shelter to continue its work. In the months since, the structure has been brought down and the shelter is currently operating out of a temporary facility on the same lot the old building was located. The Sheriff’s office, which operates the shelter, continues to seek a permanent solution. The News-Times will continue to monitor this story in 2020.

 Aerial spray ban overturned

On Sept. 30, Lincoln County Circuit Judge Sheryl Bachart ruled that Measure 21-177, a county ordinance passed by a public vote in 2017, is invalid on the basis that state law regulates pesticide use, not local governments. The decision came after the measure was challenged in court by commercial fisherman and timberland owner Rex Capri. The measure, which passed by only 61 votes, has not been in effect due to a preliminary injunction issued by Bachart soon after the election results were certified. With the

 Newport hosts first Cider Festival

On Oct. 5, the first-ever Newport Cider Festival opened its doors. Over the course of the weekend, about 3,500 attendees flocked to the fest to sample Pacific Northwest cider, listen to live music, check out a variety of locally made goods and eat and drink in a friendly atmosphere. The festival was the result of the Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce planning for three years, and will continue on as an annual tradition. The next festival will take place in the first weekend of October in 2020.

 Depoe Bay dredged at last

Dredging work on the world’s smallest navigable harbor began on Oct. 9, after more than a year of challenging federal bureaucrats and politicians to funnel dredging money into Depoe Bay. The rising silt levels in the six-acre harbor left some boats grounded and the city’s fuel dock inaccessible to operators during low and receding tides. Though the city used to be dredged on  a schedule every five years, in April 2017, Depoe Bay was left off the annual dredging list. However, after a delegation visited Washington D.C. and good connections were formed, Mayor Robert Gambino said that this will hopefully be a non-issue in the future.

 Undersea Gardens closed and removed

In September, the Undersea Gardens held its final show, and on Thursday, Nov. 21, the floating structure was towed up the Yaquina River to the Port of Newport’s International Terminal, where it was scrapped. Installed on the Bayfront in 1966, after more than half a century, the competition has risen along with the maintenance requirements, and the ownership decided it was time for the facility to close. The Oregon Coast Aquarium assisted in taking in some of the Undersea Gardens’ residents after the closure.

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