More than 70 people met at Tillamook Bay Community College to find ways to help solve problems with tide gates in Tillamook County and along the coast.
The meeting is one of several along the Oregon coast focusing on the problems and solutions for tide gate inventory, funding, maintenance and replacement.
The Dec. 12 meeting was led by former Tillamook County Commissioner Mark Labhart, with current commissioner David Yamamoto convening it and David Gomberg, a state representative, attending.
The intent of the meeting was not only to focus on the farmers' and property owners' worst fears, but to also look for the best outcomes and advice for solving the current problems.
According to Yamamoto, Tillamook County is going to have the most tide gates along the Oregon Coast. “We have so many low-lying flood plains and lots of agriculture. The idea of tide gates is to keep salt-water intrusion from affecting agriculture and at the same allowing fish passage so we can continue to have our abundant Coho.”
It was the second of four meetings planned by the tide gate group. The first was in Newport and the next will be in Coos Bay. The last will be in Columbia County.
“We can do a lot to address this issue,” he said at the beginning of the meeting.
“We are here to listen. We are looking … to create a working group which can communicate, collaborate and coordinate over multiple jurisdictions as well as develop a plan and implement recommendations.
“Many of our tide gates in Tillamook County are about 50 years old,” he explained.
There were also members of state, federal and local agencies at the meeting. “They are here to listen,” Yamamoto said.
The goal of the series of meetings is to get input and suggestions to improve the ways to replace or repair tide gates, while improving the communication between the parties involved at all levels, Yamamoto added.
“It is going to take a community to solve the tide gate issue. We cannot do this on our own. Tillamook County cannot do this on our own. The agencies cannot do this on their own. The Association of Oregon Counties cannot do this on their own. Together, with your voices involved in this, we will make progress.in the issue of failing tide gates,” Yamamoto said.
“We need help to solve the tide gate issue. We need to work together. We can do a lot to address this issue.”
Labhart, representing the Association of Oregon Counties, took on the role of facilitator, running the meeting, which lasted more than three hours.
He began the discussion by pointing out the issues heard so far at the Lincoln County meeting, which included the lack of a complete inventory of tide gates; the need to identify priorities for fixing failing tide gates; onerous permitting process; limited engineering solutions available; fear about working collaboratively with conservation groups and state and federal agencies; the high costs to repair and replace; the fact there is limited cost share funding available.
The former Tillamook County Commissioner explained the group’s purpose was to increase the awareness of the importance of replacing failing tide gates along the coast and the Columbia River. The group also hoping to help people understand the scale of the tide gate replacement needs, while also developing strategies and more cost-efficient methods which could be supported by the property owners and the agencies which regulate them.
During the meetings, Labhart found that some of the worst fears for the property owners and farmers was the ‘my way or the highway’ attitude from some agencies in addition to a bias against them. He also noted that some land owners feared losing ownership or control of their properties.
Labhart said that there was a lot of weight behind the process and the meetings. The fact that a county commissioner convening the meeting, added weight. Having state agencies attending and backing from the governor also added weight, Labhart added.
According to the former county commissioner, the findings so far stress the need to develop a truly collaborative process while also getting more empathy from the state and federal agencies. In addition, the permitting process needs to be improved, including cleaning out ditches and performing maintenance.
According to Tillamook County Commissioner Tim Josi, all of the agencies need to have more empathy for the landowners.
For Rudy Fenk, there is a big problem with the impact of sedimentation and the need for dredging around tide gates. “Whatever we do, if we don’t take care of the sediment, we are not going to get anything done,” he said. “We also need to cost share.”
Paying for tide gates
According to the executive director of Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Meta Loftgaarten, OWEB has invested in tide gates in the past.
The state agency receives funding from the Oregon Lottery, federal dollars and salmon license plate revenues. That funding is used to provide grants to take care of local streams, rivers, wetlands and natural areas.
“This is a big issue. We are here to listen so we can identify specifically what the challenges and where the opportunities are,” she explained.
According Mary Anne Cooper, the public policy council of the Oregon Farm Bureau, there has been a lack of clarity of what was required for tide gates and that needs to change. “We are looking for ways to solve these problems.”
Jerome Rosa, the executive director of the Oregon Cattlemans Association, said that one of the members told him about the problems with tide gates along the coast. “It is a big problem. Our idea (setting up the meeting) is to streamline what is a bureaucratic mess,” he said. “We are here to get solutions.”