Depoe Bay put the final nail in the coffin of its controversial street project with the Oregon Department of Transportation during its regular meeting Tuesday, with the only thing left now being to determine just how much the city will need to pay for backing out.
During the meeting, the Depoe Bay City Council approved a formal termination agreement to end the south-of-the-bridge street renovation project, which was heavily opposed by business owners in the area and other Depoe Bay residents because it would reduce parking in the area.
In a 6-1 vote, the council instructed the city attorney to begin negotiating a final price with the state agency, though some cautioned against excessive haggling on the city’s part.
After weeks of deliberation and an attempt to table the project for several months, the council was forced to make a final vote in July when ODOT made it clear work would continue on the project as the council mulled it over, incurring more in expenses daily.
To avoid increasing the already substantial amount of money it could owe the state agency if it chose to back out, the council made its final decision during a July meeting, voting 4-3 to end the project and pay back all the design and preparation costs incurred by ODOT thus far.
At that point, ODOT estimated it incurred roughly $300,000 in costs, $50,000 more than it would have cost the city to proceed with the project, though in that case Depoe Bay would have also been responsible for any overages as well.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Councilor Fran Recht opened discussion by suggesting the city instruct its legal council not to take a particularly hard stance when negotiating the final price to end the project, arguing that Depoe Bay may have already damaged its relationship with ODOT.
“We backed out on an agreement that they acted on in good faith, thinking that the city, through three different mayors and everything else, wanted this project,” Recht said.
Recht pointed out the city was recently denied a grant from ODOT for its comprehensive plan update, which could be indicative of issues between the two moving forward.
“I want to save the city money, but we already have a huge black eye,” Recht said. “We will not be looked on favorably by ODOT in the future, and we need ODOT badly to maintain our main street in Depoe Bay.”
Councilor Jerome Grant, who on more than one occasion suggested the city should request an itemized bill for ODOT’s expenses to review with scrutiny, said he was against giving the city attorney any further directions than to negotiate.
“It would be like placing a bit in the attorney’s mouth to do anything different than just let him try to negotiate,” Grant said. “I want to remind the council that we voted against the project as a council, and ODOT projects have been turned down in Lincoln City and yet they funded more, a mile and a half sidewalk and walkway, lane changes and such after they dealt with ODOT.”
Grant argued that leadership with ODOT would change over time and that the city had “nothing to be sorry for” by backing out of the project, as it was too far from its original intent.
Mayor Kathy Short agreed, saying the original intent of the project had been lost, and it would have only harmed businesses if it had proceeded.
With approval to negotiate, the city attorney will bring a final amount before the council at a later date.
Other notable items from the meeting:
• Husband and wife Bridget White and C.A. White were appointed to the Salmon Enhancement Committee, while Todd Mick was appointed to the Harbor Commission.
• The council received a presentation on watershed protection on the Oregon coast by John Wros of The Conservation Fund. At the end of the presentation, the council reviewed an option to purchase timberland that will soon go up for sale, which if harvested incorrectly could impact the city’s water system. The council decided to review situation and discuss it at a later date.
• The city reviewed ongoing nuisance complaints regarding the “Lee property,” whose owner passed away, leaving the property in the family’s name. According to Public Works Director Brady Weidner, the former owner’s family is cooperating with the city and actively working to clean the property.
• The council approved a letter of support to Mark Farley from Oregon State University to apply for a $500,000 Oregon Economic Development Alliance grant. If approved, the funds would likely be spent improving the harbor.
• The council approved the Salmon Enhancement Commission’s land use agreement with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, but will need to defer partly to the city’s planning commission, as recent research revealed the location of the Salmon Enhancement Commission’s fish-rearing program in the city reservoir is located in a residential area and therefore likely requires a conditional use permit from the city.