Geologic Permit Hearing Raises Coastal Hazard Issues

 Spring Street development site.\Photo by Elaine Karnes.
Spring Street development site.\Photo by Elaine Karnes.

The Newport Planning Commission is now deliberating on a question of great interest to Oregon Shores and anyone concerned about good land use planning.  The commission is considering an appeal by local citizens, with Oregon Shores in support, of a geologic permit for a proposed development on Spring St.  City staff recommended approval of the applicant’s geologic permit, required as a precursor to permission to develop.  The land to be developed is adjacent to the rapidly eroding area of Jump-Off Joe, and Oregon Shores argues, along with neighbors, that the proposed development site is prone to landslides, and that the applicant’s geological engineering report is entirely inadequate.  We'll learn the commission's decision at their next meeting.  For Oregon Shores’ full comments, go here.

Landowner Bill Lund proposes to build a house and two duplexes on a parcel west of Spring St., on a visibly landslide-prone bluff.  Development here poses a number of issues, from loss of views, to the future of a county right-of-way that crosses the property and possible loss of public access, to the possibility that the construction activity might destabilize Spring St. itself or properties on the east side of the road.

The underlying concern, though, is with development in coastal hazard zones in the era of sea level rise, stronger storm surges, and intensified flooding due to climate change, all of which will increase erosion and landslides. 

Oregon Shores argues, along with neighbors (several of whom are Oregon Shores members), that the geology report done for landowner Bill Lund by a firm called K & A Engineering is far from adequate, at least for such a risky site.  Our comments, relying on observations from other geologists as well as nearby residents, go into great detail in laying out the ways in which the geotechnical report relies on insufficient information and observations over too short a span to identify current landslide movement and the presence of springs during heavy rainfall periods which could lubricate landslides.

The geologic report relies in part on a now-outdated 1991 study by H.G. Schlicker & Associates, an engineering geology firm.  Yet the current president and principal geologist for the company, J. Douglas Gless, writes that “the 1991 report should be considered greatly out of date….”  He identifies a report done in 2106 by his firm for a previous landowner from whom Mr. Lund bought the property as being more reliable.  In its conclusion, it states, “The site lies on an ancient landslide that is mapped as a deep-seated active slide block.  The headscarp of this active landslide, named the Spring Street landslide, is located along the eastern property boundary of the site.  Nearby areas north and south of the site show signs of continued slow movement, and we expect the subject site to experience ongoing movement under existing conditions.”

At present, the issue is whether the city should accept the geologic report, which is a necessary precursor to development.  Oregon Shores and other opponents are at this point simply arguing that the submitted geologic report is inadequate and fails to address very plausible concerns.  If the planning commission agrees and rejects the report, it wouldn’t be the end of the story.  Lund could of course appeal the decision, but even if he accepted it and tried again, he could come back with a more detailed and up-to-date geologic report for another review.

Oregon Shores believes that if development is to be allowed at all in coastal hazard areas, the standards for such development, and for the geologic reports that pave the way, must be more rigorous, and that cities and counties should be able to seek outside, independent review of the geological situation, rather than be forced to rely on reports prepared for would-be developers by geological engineers they have hired.   Our comments, while calling on the city to reject the Lund geologic report, suggest a series of improvements to the city plan that could be enacted to provide the community with better information before decisions are made on allowing development on risky sites.

For more information on the issue or on Oregon Shores’ position, see our comments, above, or contact Phillip Johnson, executive director, (503) 754-9303, [email protected].

 

 

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