DEPOE BAY — Following an abundance of outcry from the public over the increase in rates at the fuel dock at the city-owned and operated Depoe Bay Harbor Marine Fuel Station, Councilor Jerome Grant presented his analysis of fuel rates during the Tuesday, Oct. 6, meeting of the Depoe Bay City Council at Depoe Bay City Hall.
Also during last week’s meeting, the council approved a residential yard debris and compostable waste collection program with North Lincoln Sanitary Service, and elected to keep city hall and Depoe Bay Community Hall closed despite Lincoln County’s advancement to phase two of the state’s pandemic reopening plan since the council’s previous meeting.
Councilors gave the go-ahead to reopen the city’s fish cleaning station at the harbor, with pandemic guidelines, such as mandatory face coverings and social distancing, in place.
In July, the city, already reeling from a one-two punch of previous financial mismanagement and inadequate reporting, paired with drastically reduced Transient Room Tax revenues due to the pandemic, adopted an added $1.34 per gallon charge to the price of fuel at the harbor. The intention of the rate increase was to keep the dock from operating at a financial loss to the city, as it had been for years.
Last Tuesday night, Grant’s presentation surmised that charter boat owners — the majority of the customers at fuel station — led the backlash against the rate increase. Grant, a former commercial fishing boat skipper, told the council that area boat owners can specifically calculate financial losses to their operations due to the fuel rate increase.
He added the charter boat activity is part of what makes Depoe Bay special.
“Alternatively, the charter boat activity is also an important part of what makes the City of Depoe Bay a destination for tourists, from not only around the nation, but around the world,” he said.
Grant then presented a summary of current fuel prices — diesel and non-ethanol gas —at 11 other Oregon coastal harbors that aren’t privately owned. With those numbers, Grant told the council the average diesel price Tuesday at those harbors was $2.49 a gallon, and $3.42 a gallon for gas. That put Depoe Bay’s diesel price 54 cents per gallon above the average and $1.54 a gallon higher for non-ethanol gas.
Comparable coastal harbors used by Grant included the Port of Brookings, Port of Gold Beach, Port of Port Orford, Port of Brandon, Port of Coos Bay’s Russell’s Marina, Port of Reedsport’s Salmon Harbor, Winchester Bay, Port of Siuslaw in Florence, Port of Newport, Port of Astoria and Port of Garibaldi.
Councilor Debbie Callender noted several of those comparable ports are their own taxing districts, guaranteeing them a tax-revenue base prior to setting fuel rates.
Grant offered up his suggestions for getting fuel dock operations into the black.
“The best solution is the most obvious, and that’s to see if we can find a private operator for our fuel dock, make reasonable accommodations for the service provider, and we should find out from the Port of Newport what they charge for the two spaces that they lease,” Grant said.
He also proposed a cooperative fuel dock ownership group of charter boat owners, and possibly a public-private ownership cooperative with the city.
“Perhaps the charter fleet, and this is just a side note, could come together and form a co-op, all the companies together, all the charter boats in order to provide the service, and we could work as an organization,” he said, “although it’s hard to find two fishermen who agree on anything except on that the price of fuel is too high, apparently.”
At the conclusion of the presentation, Depoe Bay Mayor Robert Gambino thanked Grant for the thorough presentation.
The council approving the yard debris/compostable waste program mandates that all North Lincoln Sanitary waste collection customers participate in the program for a $6.85 additional monthly fee. Beginning in March, customers will receive pickup in new containers twice monthly on the same date as recycling collection.
The council did not consider yard debris/compostable pickup for commercial entities, which was part of the initial North Lincoln Sanitary proposal.
City hall and the community hall will remain closed, though they have been eligible to reopen under pandemic restrictions since Sept. 29, when the county progressed to phase two. City employees remain available to the public at city hall by appointment only.
“What’s been going on has been working,” City Recorder Barbara Chestler told the council as it considered reopening city hall.
Following council approval, the harbor’s fish cleaning station is now open to two people at a time, provided they remain at least six feet from each other.