Newport mayor will once again travel to Washington, D.C.

Newport’s Big Creek dams, long past their intended lifespan, are in danger of failing. Newport Mayor Dean Sawyer will lead a delegation to Washington, D.C., his second trip to the nation’s capitol to make the case for federal assistance to fund a new dam. (News-Times file photo)

Rep. Kurt Schrader asks feds for help with Big Creek dam replacement

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Newport Mayor Dean Sawyer has been sounding an alarm regarding the dilapidated condition of the Big Creek dams, how urgent and necessary it is to replace the dams and what is at risk with dam failure in the event of a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.

“It would be devastating,” said Sawyer. Not only would water from the dams take out everything in its path, including homes on Oceanview Drive and part of Highway 101, “without water, this town would dry up.”

Sawyer will travel to Washington, D.C., March 24-26, to lobby for the dam and to meet with Federal Emergency Management officials. 

He said he would like to see small municipalities included in the Water Resources Development Act. At an estimated cost of as much as $80 million to build, Sawyer is reaching out for federal help with funding a new dam.

Newport hired Deep Dig Research to support the city’s federal lobbying efforts to secure funding for the construction of a new dam. This will be Sawyer’s second trip to the nation’s capitol. Last November, he and a delegation of city employees and Dig Deep representatives met with U.S. representatives and their staff to make the case for Newport.

Tia Cavender, of Dig Deep Research, will accompany Sawyer, as will Jenny Dresler, the city’s pubic affairs counsel who lobbies the state legislature on the city’s behalf, and Public Works Director Tim Gross.

Sawyer also asked State Rep. David Gomberg to come along “because he and (Sen.) Arnie Roblan have been so helpful on the state level.”

On Feb. 27, U.S. Congressman Kurt Schrader made a formal, written appeal before the House Transportation & Infrastructure Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee. In it, he said, “My last request for the committee is a project that has been developing over the past few months, but could rapidly worsen. The City of Newport is currently seeking $70 to $80 million to replace Big Creek Dam, which holds their municipal water supply. The current dams were originally built in 1958 and, over time, have deteriorated to the point where they are vulnerable to complete failure in the event of an earthquake registering at 3.5 or higher. Should these dams fail, the flows would breach Highway 101 and roughly 20 houses would be destroyed without warning.”

Schrader’s appeal continued, “The region is also prone to slides every year that could also wipe out the dam. The city is currently investigating multiple money sources, including state funding and Federal Emergency Management Agency High Hazard Potential Dam Grant Program, but the full cost is too great to be borne solely by a local bond.”

Sawyer wants to get started, so that when the funding is secured, everything is in place, ready to go.

“One of the things we have to do is re-route Big Creek Road more to the north,” said Sawyer of the first steps. “The second project being considered is an environmental assessment, which is, unfortunately, expensive for the city.

“Fixing the dam is not an option,” said Sawyer definitively. “It must be replaced. We have to move forward. If the dams go, we’re not going to have a community here.”

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