Yaquina River at Toledo.

Yaquina River at Toledo.Photo by John Bauer.

Oregon’s estuary management plans (EMPs) are decades old. We’re in the early stages of what will be a years-long effort, prompted by the Oregon Coastal Management Program, to update and revise the plans that guide management of these essential habitats and resource areas. EMPs are drafted and adopted by local jurisdictions and govern permitted uses of the estuary and surrounding watershed. EMPs impact the outcome of development projects, determine resource allocation, affect water quality and ecosystem integrity, and have a long-lasting influence on the surrounding coastal communities that rely on estuaries for their livelihood.

The first two under revision are those for Yaquina Bay and Coos Bay. They are following similar trajectories. Having been delayed by the pandemic, planners are on a fast track to complete the initial phases, known as Phase 1 for the Coos Bay Estuary Management Plan (CBEMP) and Tier I for the Yaquina Bay Estuary Management Plan (YBEMP). In each case, the plans, nearly 40 years old, are being digitized and modernized in format. Technical and legal language is being updated. And the maps that inventory natural resources and human develops in the estuary, carrying the data that undergird the plans, are under revision with the addition of more recent data.

However, the draft plans for the two estuaries do not address fundamental questions: habitat protection, restoration, endangered species, water quality, and above all, climate change and its inevitable impacts, all of which need to be considered if the ecological health of the estuaries is to be conserved and enhanced. Comprehensive revision of the plans must wait for further phases of the planning process. Citizens will have an important role in pushing the local governments in each watershed to forge ahead and consider the long-term future of these ecosystems.

The public comment period for draft of the CBEMP has closed, but the public will have more chances to weigh in when the plan is considered for adoption by the Coos County commissioners and the city councils of Coos Bay and North Bend. We have prepared a guide for those making comments on this plan. There will be opportunities for public discussion when the local government bodies hold hearings. Go here to see the elements of the draft plan to be considered.

The timeline for the YBEMP follows closely. The planners have now made their “final draft” available, for public comment. The comment period ran through July 9. A series of “town halls” took place in early July. To view the draft plan and background materials, go here. A final draft, reflecting any changes based on public comments, will be delivered to Lincoln County and the cities of Newport and Toledo by Aug. 31. After this, hearings before the planning commissions of the county and cities will be scheduled. Watch the events listings on this website for details when they become availablle.

Oregon Shores is closely tracking both processes (and Conservation Director Phillip Johnson serves on the YBEMP advisory committee). We have expressed strong concerns about the work on the YBEMP to date. We recently delivered a comment on the CBEMP Phase 1 draft, expressing similar strong concerns.

To learn more about Oregon Shores’ positions on the estuary management plans, contact Phillip Johnson, (503) 754-9303, phillip@oregonshores.org. If you would like to get involved in working with us to shape the plans, contact Land Use Coordinator Annie Merrill, annie@oregonshores.org.