By Representative David Gomberg, House District 10
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Mother Nature landed hard across our district this past week. And while the statisticians tell us this was the heaviest snowfall to impact Oregon in 50 years, I think what is much more important is how it impacted you.
Our major highway arterials, 101, 18, 20, 229, and 34 were all closed at one time or another – cutting us off from the Valley. Side roads were worse with some still struggling. About 6800 homes lost power. And another 50 homes lost natural gas. Schools, medical clinics, and businesses were closed.
It is times like this we rely on and respect our highway workers and utility responders. And it’s also the time we rely on each other and that people really step up to help neighbors, friends, and particularly some of our older neighbors living independently.
Pacific Power and Lincoln PUD really worked hard to get power back on as quickly and safely as possible. When NW Natural Gas lost connections to homes which meant no heat, cooking, hot water, or gas generators, they offered portable heaters or emergency lodging and when service was restored, went to each home to reignite pilot lights. That’s service!
And while most of the media focus was on Portland problems, ODOT, County Roads, and city services really stepped up for us here at the Coast as well. Crews worked round the clock in preparation for and in response to this historic weather event. They had to move vehicles, including big trucks, off the road. They cleared downed trees off the highways and ensure downed power lines were fixed. Only then could they bring in plows and graders to lift up the packed snow and ice, apply salt, and clear the roads. (NewsGuard photo of Lincoln City.)
Cascade Head lost 400 trees on Highway 101.
Yachats News provided the following summary:
- Highway 20 about five miles east of Toledo was closed for several hours Thursday morning due to downed trees. It reopened by noon, but ODOT cautioned travelers to expect significant delays.
- U.S. Highway 101 was closed north of Lincoln City near the junction with Oregon Highway 18 to Neskowin by about 400 fallen trees. ODOT crews had cleared the road to north of Highway 18 by noon Thursday.
- The Oregon Department of Transportation closed 23 miles of Oregon Highway 34 starting four miles east of Waldport to the Benton County line due to downed trees. The road opened Thursday afternoon for one lane between milepost 4 and 9 with treacherous driving between downed trees. ODOT crews were staging equipment to begin trying to open most of the road to one lane of traffic by the end of the day Friday.
- Fourteen miles of Oregon Highway 229 was closed from its 90-degree bend south to just north of Siletz.
- Several miles of Highway 18 were closed by downed trees and later reopened. As of noon Thursday there was a new closure at Rose Lodge due to downed power lines. Continuing winds threaten to re-close inland corridors overnight.
- Between the county’s three electrical providers, about 6,800 customers were without power Thursday morning.
- All of Samaritan Health Services’ Lincoln County clinics were closed or delayed opening Thursday and some staff had trouble making it to work, leading Newport and Lincoln City hospitals to set up incident command centers.
- North Lincoln Fire & Rescue in Lincoln City closed a section of East Devils Lake Road as it responded to a rupture in a NW Natural gas line that resulted in 10- to 15-foot flames, with power lines also downed in the area. NW Natural offered to house 60 customers without service until repairs were made.
- Lincoln County schools, Oregon Coast Community College, and many city government buildings were closed Thursday, and the popular Newport Seafood and Wine Festival was delayed until noon Friday. The school district and college announced Thursday evening that schools would be closed again Friday.
For my own part, I stayed in Salem Wednesday night rather than brave the icy Van Duzer in the dark. This was the first time in three years I didn’t make the commute home. Thursday morning, leadership announced that all hearings and floor sessions were cancelled. I wrapped up my meetings, changed from a suit into jeans and boots, and headed west. The drive was tolerable until I reached my own street in Otis. The hill was impassible so I parked at the church around the corner and hiked the last half mile home. Power was off here too.
We cancelled plans, checked with neighbors, and then hunkered down until Saturday.
At the state level, we struggle with how to better prepare our communities for emergencies and disasters. And while I wouldn’t call this a full-blown disaster, it wasn’t any fun either. Preparation and planning make all the difference on difficult days.
I’m also mindful that we struggle to get clear, current, and reliable information in our rural communities. Certainly, our newspapers and local radio work to tell us what has already happened, and our online news sources do pretty well telling us what is going on. But that information is harder to receive when power is down and internet is offline. We lack emergency communication that is more reliable than Facebook.
I encourage everyone to subscribe to your county emergency notification system to receive texts and emails.
I hope you’ve all managed to stay safe, warm and off the roads when possible. With each challenge we weather and overcome, we are better prepared for the next one.
Big bills are on the move in Salem. And as I have discussed in the past, two on the fast-track deal with Housing and Semiconductors.
- Directs Oregon Business Development Department (OBDD) to develop grant and loan programs to support businesses applying for financial assistance under the federal Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors for America Act of 2022 (P.L. 117-167).
- Provides that program be administered jointly by OBDD and the Governor.
- Allows the Governor to designate certain lands to be brought within urban growth boundaries for specified industrial uses.
- Allows local governments to rezone lands for such uses by ordinance.
- Is effective on passage.
- $130 million for Governor’s homelessness emergency declaration.
- $27 million to address homelessness in 25 rural counties that weren’t included in the January emergency order.
- $25 million earmarked for homeless youth, to help young people and their families with rent assistance, shelter and mental health or substance abuse treatment.
- $20 million to encourage production of modular homes, which are built in factories and then placed in foundations or stacked to make apartment buildings.
- $5 million in grants for farmers to improve health and safety conditions at farm worker camps.
- $3 million in revolving loans builders can use to pay for predevelopment costs, such as permits and local infrastructure fees, for homes that will be affordable to people earning between 80% and 120% of the median income in their area.
As a legislator representing parts of rural and coastal Oregon, it’s important to me that we make sure our state’s response to homelessness reaches the 25 rural counties and the hundreds of small cities and towns not covered in the original emergency declaration. I’ve been working hard to make that happen. On Wednesday I was one of three legislators presenting the package at a press conference. “Affordable housing has to be our number one goal,” said my colleague Maxine Dexter. “That’s really where the root cause of homelessness is coming from.”
Certainly the biggest legislative news of the week was the latest revenue forecast.
Back in February, I reported state economists believed the economy is declining, that the 2023 session will be dealing with a modest recession and that we are $560 million short of what we need to pay for what we are doing now. I said to stay tuned as details would likely change.
Change they did!
Economists now say personal and corporate income taxes should come in hundreds of millions of dollars higher than they expected just three months ago. They told lawmakers to tentatively plan to have $696 million more than anticipated earlier as we decide spending priorities for the two-year budget that will begin in July. The state now expects to have roughly $31.5 billion to spend between general fund and lottery resources in the 2023-25 biennium.
In addition, the state of Oregon is now expected to send nearly $4 billion back to taxpayers next year in the “kicker” rebate, as forecast revenues continue to soar past our economist’s initial expectations. Some of my colleagues are telling folks that’s an average of $5,200 per Oregonian. And yes, that is a true average. But remember my joke about when Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk walk into a bar? Immediately, the average income of everyone in the bar increases by billions of dollars. The fact is that larger rebates will go to Oregon’s wealthiest citizens and most of us will receive much less than $5,000.
Finally, economists said Wednesday that they’re deeply uncertain about what coming months will bring for Oregon tax collections and that a recession remains a real possibility after years of surging revenue. But as we have seen, these forecasts can shift quickly and it is becoming more and more difficult to accurately project what the economy may look like.
The final budget we approve for the next two years will be based on a revenue forecast in May.
While we were snowbound for several days with the power going in and out, Susie and I did venture down the hill Saturday for two important gatherings.
The first was the long-awaited groundbreaking for the Lincoln City Plaza. I often say that there is magic going on inside the local Cultural Center. But outside, it still looks like an aging brick schoolhouse. In 2019, I brought home $1.5 million in lottery bond dollars to change that. The plan is to add performance spaces, public art, market areas, and lots more parking.
The pandemic and a host of other problems slowed things down. But the Plaza overcame them and a hundred people showed up to celebrate on Saturday.
The second event was the biggest party on the Central Coast. Delayed one day by the snowfall, the Newport Seafood and Wine Festival was in full swing Saturday. The huge tent was filled with good food, good wine, and good people with many dressed funny or wearing crab hats and all having fun.
Monday I’m heading back to Salem early to begin another busy week. Let’s hope that the next few days are a bit more predictable than the last few. Stay safe – and take care of each other!
address: 900 Court St NE, H-480, Salem, OR, 97301