Highway pollinator project is for the bees


LINCOLN COUNTY —  The highway linking Newport to Yachats could soon be abuzz.

A pollinator corridor project organized by the county and the Oregon Department of Transportation will see a stretch of the Oregon coast protected for pollinator species, helping to bolster struggling bee populations.

The South Lincoln County Pollinator Habitat Corridor Project will include state and local agencies, volunteer groups like the group Concerned Citizens for Clean Air and interested individuals to protect pollinator habitat along Highway 101, an agreement between ODOT and Lincoln County states. The county will lead the management of activities and obligations related to the corridor project, while ODOT will provide state-owned land along the corridor for planting pollinating flora.

“It has taken a couple of years because of the back-and-forth between the county, ODOT and Concerned Citizens, but the agreement ironed out was one that everyone sees as workable,” said Board of Commissioners Chair Claire Hall. “Hopefully now, depending on the availability of volunteer help and funding, the planting of pollinators can begin.”

The corridor will stretch from Newport south of the Yaquina Bay Bridge down to Yachats, a project map shows, and groups associated with the county will be responsible for maintaining plants along state rights-of-way along the corridor.

Part of the agreement between ODOT and Lincoln County states that uncontrolled vegetation along the corridor could pose a hazard for drivers on the highway if the county doesn’t adequately maintain plants on the pollinator corridor route. If vegetation control issues go unaddressed by the county, the state could come in to remedy the issue and could use herbicides to control excess plant growth.

That part of the agreement was written after much deliberation between those involved, according to county officials.

“I did share the revised agreement with the other leadership of Concerned Citizens for Clean Air, and while not entirely satisfied, they feel these changes were much better,” Hall said during the Wednesday board of commissioners meeting. “I think they’re at the point where they feel it’s as good as it’s going to get.”

The state also agreed to eliminate herbicide use along the pollinator corridor for three years, as long as the county properly manages the project, and after that period ODOT officials can inspect the corridor to see the effects of not using herbicides.

County group responsibilities in maintaining the pollinator corridor include eliminating hazardous trees, accommodating utilities, control noxious weeds, prevent erosion, preserve wetlands and habitats and conserve native plants and wildflowers.

Those involved in Concerned Citizens for Clean Air, who first contacted the county board of commissioners about the project a few years ago, is enthusiastic to see the project move forward.

“Our group considers this an accomplishment that will help at a local level to preserve pollinator habitat and native plants along the highway right-of-way,” said Maxine Centala, one of the group’s members. “We envision that this project will help support the populations of native pollinators, including those at risk, and will contribute to a healthier environment and help to beautify the area.”

The collaboration between the group and the county started in 2007, according to Centala and county officials, when the group helped maintain the No Spray Project on a 25-mile stretch of Highway 101 from Newport to the Lane County line. Centala said in an email Thursday plants along that stretch flourished after herbicide spraying stopped, and that the group wanted to build on that work to help preserve native bees and other pollinators.

Centala and other members of the group then took the idea to the board of commissioners three years ago, as well as to city officials in Newport, Waldport and Yachats.

“All the participants signed a letter of intent to participate in the corridor,” Centala said. “In the end, only Lincoln County signed a formal agreement with ODOT which creates the pollinator corridor and specifies three more years without herbicide spray.”

Centala added, “The pollinator corridor can increase public awareness of native pollinators which include many species of native bees, hover flies and other insects, and hummingbirds.”

Twenty spots along the pollinator corridor were identified as part of the project, including the northeast corner of Pacific Way, the highway north of 68th Drive, the highway north of 73rd street, a patch of highway near the Newport Municipal Airport entrance, Minor Park Road to the bridge, the south end of the seawall to a nearby turnout, a steep slope near Yachats River Road and the south end of Cooks Chasm parking.

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