State lawmaking, local impacts

David Gomberg talks to a constituent at the Newport town hall on Sunday. The Newport stop was one of a series of talks along the coast Gomberg organized following the end of the legislative session. (Photo by Madeline Shannon)

Gomberg holds Newport town hall

NEWPORT — State Rep. David Gomberg (D-Central Coast) stopped in Newport Sunday as part of a tour of coastal town halls, during which he updated Newport-area residents about state legislation this past session that concerned coastal residents here. Attendees and the lawmaker discussed topics as diverse as immigration, the Big Creek Dams, the Senate Republicans’ walkout, the last week of the legislative session and the state’s public employees retirement system (PERS). 

“I think there was a great deal of drama and a fair amount of conflict but there’s also a lot of things that got done,” Gomberg said. “There were transformational things that got done. There were a lot of high-profile issues.”

While not all the issues affected by bills from this legislative session were discussed at the Newport town hall on Sunday, Gomberg and the locals in attendance delved the local implications for some political issues coming down from the state legislature, as well as what local issues here mean for Gomberg and his colleagues in Salem. Among the topics of conversation at Sunday’s town hall: 

Development on the coast

Residents worried about residential, commercial and industrial development along the coast, especially in areas close to quickly-eroding cliffs or within the tsunami inundation zone. The Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries is trying to re-draw those areas, according to Gomberg. 

“Using the best available science, they want to move the line from where it’s currently established to further east,” Gomberg said Sunday. “When we talk about moving that line further away from the beach, meanwhile, our urban growth boundaries on the eastern side of our communities don’t move. So the areas where we have the ability to do new, critical facilities becomes more and more compressed.”

That makes it more difficult to move schools, police stations, fire stations, and other government agencies and buildings out of harm’s way, Gomberg added. 

“Some of our communities have buildable space outside the inundation zone, some of them do not,” Gomberg said. “They won’t even give us money to move a school outside the inundation zone.”

While state restrictions curb development and growth in the earthquake zone, Gomberg expressed sentiments that push back on the laws that prohibit new building in the western third of the state. 

“I think the state needs to get serious about emergency planning,” he said. “Simply having rules that say nothing can go on in the earthquake zone is old thinking, and frankly, I think it’s dumb thinking.”

Recyclable materials & systems

This legislative session, the state passed two laws limiting the use of plastic straws and prohibiting single-use plastic bags, two major environmental pieces of legislation that mirrored local efforts to curb the use of plastic bags in Newport. HB 2509, or the Sustainable Shopping Act, was passed after the city of Newport’s passage of an ordinance banning plastic bags. 

Plastic wasn’t the only target of the state legislature this year, however. 

“There was one bill that came through that was going to ban styrofoam food containers,” Gomberg said. “That one didn’t make it all the way through the system.”

Another local effort Gomberg supports is the new Georgia-Pacific Mill Juno Project, which will convert 100,000 tons of waste a year into paper boxes. While that didn’t prove contentious at the town hall in Newport, some residents of the east part of Lincoln County have opposed the project.

“Those are examples of the kinds of things that are going on, and I anticipate we’re going to see more things like that,” Gomberg said. 

Big Creek Dams

Gomberg wasn’t the only person to come out in support of state funding for Big Creek Dams, which local officials say need to be rebuilt to withstand a Cascadia earthquake. 

“We are the first dam to come to the legislature,” said Newport Mayor Dean Sawyer. “We are the first to come to plans for the seismic rehabilitation of our dam.”

The Big Creek Dams, Gomberg explained, are some of the most seismically vulnerable dams in the state. It wouldn’t even take a large earthquake to impact the dams, and the city has talked to state officials about securing funding to help with rebuilding the dams. 

“At the end of the day, we were able to come home with $4 million to begin that planning process,” Gomberg said. 

Local officials say that assistance is very much needed, and not just for the city. 

“We’re looking at this not from a Newport perspective, but from a regional perspective,” said Sawyer. “That dam is very fragile.”

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