NEWPORT — Mr. Sawyer is going to Washington.
The Newport City Council voted Monday evening to send Mayor Dean Sawyer to Washington, D.C. At an estimated cost of $1,000, the mayor will be part of a delegation of local leaders and Dig Deep Research employees who will be in the nation’s capitol Nov. 11-14 to lobby for funding for Big Creek Dams, the one such opportunity city officials will have for the next four years to get the kind of money they’ll be asking federal officials for.
The vote to pay for a delegation to travel to Washington is the best chance the city has of getting money from the Water Resources Development Act, a bill that could allocate money for projects like the Big Creek Dams construction project. The bill was originally signed into law by President Donald Trump in October 2018 as part of America’s Water Infrastructure Act and currently sits in the Subcommittee on Water Resources Environment for revision.
Appointments are already scheduled with Washington high flyers who have the sway to get Newport much-needed money to help reconstruct the Big Creek Dams, which local engineering officials said will fail in a seismic event such as the Cascadia earthquake.
“By spending this money, we at least get a chance to lobby our legislators for the money,” said City Councilor Dietmar Goebel.
Dig Deep Research started working with city officials in 2012 on a number of projects, most notably work related to Big Creek Dams funding and water infrastructure projects. The company added a state lobbyist to its payroll this summer, and utilized the services of that lobbyist to help overturn Gov. Kate Brown’s veto of part of section 82 of House Bill 5050, which would have denied the city of Newport much-needed money to construct a new dam on the current Big Creek Dams site.
“That has been a big success and a testament to that success is the fact that we were able to convince the governor to reconsider her original vote,” said Tia Cavender, founder and CEO of Dig Deep Research. “What we’d like to do is replicate that model on the federal level.”
That effort involves hiring a federal lobbyist to get a local delegation access to officials in the nation’s capitol. Cavender said the facilitation of those discussions in Washington, D.C. will allow local leaders to connect with those who could get Newport some of the money it needs to help pay for the monumental Big Creek Dams project.
Since this funding disbursement is only available every four years, if the city didn’t appropriately lobby for that money, another opportunity to secure potentially millions of dollars of federal funding wouldn’t come along until right before the next election cycle. Other sources of money are available, Cavender added, but those funding sources aren’t guaranteed to go to the city.
“We could still pursue federal funding through other means, such as competitive grant programs, but those are never a guarantee, either,” she said. “This is a very unique opportunity. This is something that we go into by the skin of our teeth because the Senate is required to make their recommendations by Dec. 1 of this year. If we miss this window of opportunity, then we would not have the potential to have federal funds allocated in the next policy in 2020.”
The lobbying efforts aren't guaranteed. The delegation’s actions in Washington might fail, since lobbying federal officials does not guarantee the city of Newport will get this WRDA funding this election cycle. However, the efforts are sure to fail if the city doesn’t send the delegation, city councilors said.
“By sending you and your team to Washington, there’s no guarantee you’re going to get anything, right?” Goebel asked Cavender. “But if we don’t send you, there’s a guarantee we’ll get nothing.”
Cavender also said other efforts Dig Deep Research would do on the city’s behalf in the future would benefit from the lobbying efforts on this trip. Federal Emergency Management Agency grants, resilient infrastructure program money and high-hazard dam rehabilitation dollars all hinge on this effort.
“So we have multiple contingencies,” Cavender said. “We’re going to be hitting all of those all at once, so we really do feel like this will get us a step closer to getting the support we need to be successful in securing other funding sources.”
The city will also pay for Public Works Director Tim Gross to go on the trip, as well as employees from Dig Deep Research. Travel expenses for each delegate total around $1,000 a piece, city officials said. The expenses come out of the city’s general fund.
“This really takes that direct contact in order to make this a high enough priority to where there’s a possibility this line item would get directly into the legislation for funding,” said Newport City Manager Spencer Nebel. “We’re countering that over millions of dollars we could get from this action. If we want to substantially reduce the cost to our taxpayers and ratepayers for this project, we need to take some aggressive action.”
The lobbyist Dig Deep Research plans to utilize will charge the company $2,500 a month, a much lower rate than the usual $5,000-$7,000 that lobbyist usually charges clients. Cavender said this attests to the strength of the project.
“The fact that they did that is a strong testament to how much they wanted to assist, and also that this is a good project and something they can move forward on,” Cavender said.