NEWPORT — Modern ruins that have become a coastline landmark in Newport appeared to move a few feet closer to collapsing onto the beach.
Last week, it was still possible to park in spaces on Northwest Coast Street’s dead end north of 11th Street and walk on concrete slabs that were the foundation of an abandoned oceanfront condominium development.
After a crack in the middle of that structure appeared to have grown by several feet, causing concrete slabs to tilt up at near a 20 degree angle, the city of Newport last weekend put up a barricade blocking off the parking area and cordoned off the ruins with fire line tape. The city owns the parking lot and has right of ways adjacent to the old development, as well as a storm drain that runs through the site, while Lincoln County owns the site itself.
Observations by drone of the structure from the west taken Thursday and compared to images from March of last year also appear to show growth in fractures on the cliffs, as well as pronounced growth in a fracture at the edge of the foundation, splitting it and the cliffs north and south from the parking area.
The outcropping where Nye meets Agate Beach experienced dramatic erosion during the past 150 years. There was a 100-foot sea stack connected to the mainland until the turn of the century, when waves eroded the land link and created an archway, which itself collapsed during the early 1900s. In 1942, a landslide on the cliff destroyed more than a dozen homes built south of the promontory’s remnants.
A condominium project in the early 1980s was abandoned three years after construction began when continued land movement caused the foundation to fail. The doomed development led to bankruptcy for the owners, investors, insurers, the contractor and a lumber company, as well as a revoked license for the geologist who lent his expert approval to the project. Lincoln County acquired the property through tax foreclosure. The broken foundations remain at the site, retaining the name used for the long-eroded sea stack, Jump-Off Joe.
The county commissioned a study of the land’s condition from H.G. Schlicker & Associates, of Oregon City, in 2019. Its report documented two main ground fractures and noted satellite imagery showing multiple active landslides in the area.
The firm recommended posting signs to warn of the risk of landslides, which the county installed last year, as well as demolition of the abandoned foundations to relieve weight on the cliffside, and remedial measures such as partially filling the fractures with sodium bentonite chips, which would help prevent water from entering the subsurface.
In a joint meeting between the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners and Newport City Council early last year, County Counsel Wayne Belmont said staff was actively monitoring conditions but the county could not afford to undertake safe remediation at that time.
The county public works department did not respond to multiple inquiries regarding the recent movement, and an inquiry through the county’s public information officer yielded no further information.
Newport City Manager Spencer Nebel said the city is aware of the slippage and is monitoring its infrastructure for damage, which had not yet occurred.
Teton Creek Condominiums, previously called Shoreline Ridge, lies just east and north of the section progressively crumbling down the cliffside. Lee Hardy, chief executive officer of Yaquina Bay Property Management, which manages the property, said a sinkhole appeared about a month ago just north of the westernmost building.
She said it’s apparently the location of an old septic tank and unrelated to slippage on the cliffs, but she said she’s concerned that uncorrected it might eventually contribute to the problem. Hardy said repairing it was a complicated process because of the need to obtain permission from multiple jurisdictions and a caution to avoid the use of heavy equipment, which could do more damage.
She said her staff reported continued movement of the old foundation site during the first days of this week.
Multiple factors could be responsible for the sudden noticeable shift. Heavy rainfall drenched the coast during the first two weeks of January, which could have eroded the cliff internally, and particularly heavy surf battered the cliffside, which could have worn away at the foot of the bluff, contributing to collapse.