Port moves forward on longstanding issues

Commissioners approve FEMA project, finalize manager job description

There was a flurry of progress at the Port of Siuslaw on Wednesday as the council made decisions regarding the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) erosion project, posted the open port manager job position and looked into several other key projects.

One of the first issues the commission tackled was the FEMA erosion project after final plans were submitted to repair the damage at the east end of the campground. The erosion was caused in part by the heavy winter of 2015-16. The affected portion of the campground has been closed since April 2016.

The project has been mired in controversy and delays since its initial proposal, including longstanding debates on what caused the erosion, how the erosion should be fixed and how much the repairs would cost. The project was also continually postponed by a myriad of bureaucratic hurdles from federal and state agencies.

But on Wednesday, the final designs for the project were finally approved, with a start date planned for March or April 2018.

However, even this decision was met with some controversy. Marine Engineer Jack Aiken, who has worked on the project since the beginning, had submitted the final proposal as a scaled down version, with a reduction of rock and fill used to fix the erosion.

The original plans called for a 2:1 slope to a 1.5:1 slope. While the new, steeper angle would save money on the project, it could potentially prohibit individuals from walking on the slope.

The commissioners were confused as to why Aiken had made the change.

“We’ve been led to read the Bible saying our shore land is going to wash away using a 2:1 slope, but now we’re building a 1.5:1 slope,” Commissioner Terry Duman said. “This is the same as a contractor saying we’ll build 12-foot ceilings, but then building 8-foot ceilings, saying, ‘We’ll save you money, now.’”

The commission didn’t disagree with the change per se, and they found the cost benefits to be substantial. But they questioned why Aiken made the change now, and not earlier.

Ultimately, commissioners decided to not hold off the project for another month, and voted unanimously to have the new plans submitted, with the caveat that Aiken give an on-the-record clarification as to why he decided to make the change.

The commission then turned its attention to the port manager job description, which staff members had been working to revise to stave off any future conflicts that might occur with vague wording.

After a few clarifications, the description was passed unanimously.

This now paves the path for the commission to start looking for a new port manager.

Currently, Dina McClure is the interim port manager after the dismissal of Steven Leskin earlier this year. McClure’s official position is the port’s administrative assistant.

The position is expected to be posted on Jan. 2, with the port accepting applications until Jan. 31.

The commission also discussed selling the 40-acre industrial park the port owns, which has laid vacant for years as the port attempted to sell the parcel as one large lot.

In a work session held prior to Wednesday’s public meeting, the port heard proposals from two real estate companies to take on the task of selling the property.

Andy Johnson from Coldwell Banker and Tony Wells from Berkshire Hathaway presented their realtor proposals in the meeting, with both suggesting that the lot be broken up into smaller, mixed-use parcels.

“About 90 percent of everything that is sold is a residential home,” Johnson said. “With commercial and industrial land, the pool of buyers really shrinks. It creates a definite obstacle and hurdle to get over in order to get the right buyer. I would encourage the port to be creative in selling the property — as far as being flexible in financing the short term and being creative in pricing and strategy — because these types of sales don’t happen that often.”

Wells agreed with the assessment, saying, “The problem is, the big players look at our demographics or the workforce to suite those big projects. So, we’re kind of in between time. I would like to look into that idea to make it a mixed use.”

The commission decided to hold off on making a final decision until next month, allowing commissioners time to review both proposals.

Commissioners also received input from the community on the future of the port. Since a public input meeting was held in November, a bevy of suggestions have been flowing in. Those suggestions continued on Wednesday night as the public comment section brought in ideas.

One speaker had researched the concept of privatizing the Port of Siuslaw campground, going as far as contacting American Land and Leisure, a nationwide agency that runs campgrounds for various government agencies. He had worked some out the financial benefits of privatizing, along with the day-to-day operations of American Land and Leisure.

Another person gave support of creating a public pier for various activities, something that similar ports on the coast have but the Port of Siuslaw lacks.

More suggestions were given, including opening up the port showers to the public once a week, with volunteers overseeing it to prevent vandalism, and an economist who gave statistics on the fishing industry on the coast as a whole.

Whether or not any of these plans will be accepted by the port remains to be seen, but the commissioners found the timing of the input advantageous because the port’s current five-year strategic business plan is set to expire in 2018.

Commissioner Bill Meyer stated that the public input should be funneled into a committee that could parse through the suggestions, look at their economic and social feasibility and how they could fit into other issues facing the port. These could then be used as a blueprint for the next five-year strategic plan, and will be finalized later in 2018.

The commissioners encouraged the public to keep bringing their ideas to the table. The port will hold another town-hall style input meeting in January, date to be determined.

Funding to repair the building that houses Mo’s restaurant was also secured Wednesday.

“Mo’s building was built in 1984,” McClure said. “From what I can see, the only real repairs are that we replaced the roof in 2011 for $1,800 and in 2014 we replaced all the windows, gutter and floor. Other than that, the building has not had a whole lot of attention. The exterior is in great need of repair.”

While the port had originally planned to fix multiple issues with the building, including repairing the cupolas and shingles on the roof, the cost was prohibitive. Instead, the port will focus repairs that need immediate attention, including the south and west walls, with particular attention being placed on the windows, which have been leaking.

After that, McClure reported that a grant was secured to purchase new security cameras for the Florence marina and campground, which will be installed as soon as the vendor can schedule it.

Signe Grimstad, of Grimstad and Associates, gave a presentation regarding the port’s recent audit. He gave the port a clean bill of financial health, stating, “This was our first year with the Port of Siuslaw. You’ve received a good opinion, which is what you strive for.”

Grimstad also praised the ports staff as being helpful in the audit.

“They’re very open and receptive,” he said.

Finally, McClure was able to obtain ten spruce logs that will be used to replace the current waterlogged wood debris booms that are beginning to show signs of rot.

The booms block debris from the river, such as floating timber, from entering the marina.

McClure had looked into using more modern debris booms, but found that they were cost prohibitive. The new spruce logs will work as a suitable replacement until the port can find funding for more modern booms.

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