The landslide at First and Commercial streets in Astoria has ground nearly to a halt - but the search for a way to pay for the havoc it caused has gone into high gear.

Astoria has already spent more than $300,000 on temporary repairs. Finding the cause of the January landslide and putting permanent fixes in place will likely cost upwards of $500,000.

At Monday's meeting, City Manager Paul Benoit told the Astoria City Council the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) may not be coming through with as much financial aid as anticipated.

Currently, the city is looking at only about 70 percent reimbursement for emergency temporary repairs from FEMA.

Calling the situation a "Catch-22," Benoit said the city is appealing FEMA's decision and looking for help from U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith and U.S. Rep. David Wu, as well as Mark Ellsworth from the governor's office. Benoit said without more substantial help from FEMA, the city does not have the resources to do the necessary work.

Benoit said FEMA has a rule book that's tough to decipher.

"They will not provide support to do geotechnical investigations, they will not provide support to do stabilization work, they will not provide support to put infrastructure in the ground on a permanent basis unless we stabilize the hillside first," he said. "Then they would consider assisting the city with our infrastructure.

"But with some of our infrastructure, for instance the water line that's running down Bond Street, we don't want to put that back in the ground, we want to put it down in Marine Drive where it's stable, and just take it outside the slide area altogether. But their rules don't allow us to do that. We could do it, but they won't pay for it. They'll only pay if we put it back in the same exact spot. But they'll only pay for it in the exact same spot if the hillside is determined to be stable. And they won't help us stabilize it."

During a long discussion, Benoit said there are no plans to replace the sections of First Street and Commercial Street that "fell away" during the slide, but it will be up to the City Council to make a final decision. However, Benoit said that does not mean that the road put in after the slide to provide emergency access to a few houses on Duane Street will become a regular city street.

Another problem loomsAt the other end of town another costly infrastructure repair is in the works. Benoit said the Franklin Avenue Bridge, which crosses 38th Street and provides the only access to about 40 houses, must be replaced. An old timber structure built in 1949, the bridge has developed serious structural problems. The city and the Oregon Department of Transportation have been able to secure federal funding to pay the estimated $3.3 million price tag to replace the bridge. The city plans to use Surface Transportation Program funds to cover the 10.27 percent required local match, which is about $335,000. Design and environmental work will begin this year, with construction slated for 2009.

Mayor Van Dusen said it's important to keep neighborhood residents informed about the bridge construction plans. A meeting will be set up to do that.

In other unrelated action, the Council approved creating a new full-time position of Assistant Aquatic Supervisor at a salary range of $35,800 to $43,500 a year. Funds to pay for the position are included in the current budget and the budget proposed for 2007-08. The position was recommended in the business plan for the Aquatic Center as a way to reduce the high turnover rate for the supervisor, and free him up to spend more time on marketing the facility, which will receive an approximately $300,000 subsidy in the coming fiscal year to break even.

The position of cashier was eliminated several months ago, thanks to financial management software.

"Spending more money on the Aquatic Center is difficult for me to do because we're spending so much money on it now," said Councilor Blair Henningsgaard, who said the entire Council has "continuing concerns" with the facility's financing. But he said he was voting yes because the new position is supposed to improve the financial situation. The vote was 4 to 0 in favor, with Peter Roscoe absent.


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