Clatsop County may be able to tap into block grant funds set aside by the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department for disaster recovery.

Members of the County Commission learned about the previously unknown source at Wednesday's meeting when George Sabol, executive director of Clatsop Community Action, brought it to their attention.

Sabol said he was attending an Oregon Housing and Community Services meeting in Portland when he heard about the $4 million in federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds funneled to the state for distribution to Oregon counties. Only half has been distributed, he said, and when he asked why none had come to Clatsop County, the reason given was that the Clatsop County Commission had not applied for it.

Deadline for applying is the end of this year.

The Commission approved Sabol's offer to write a letter to the state Economic and Community Development Department asking for an extension of the deadline, and will add Chairwoman Patricia Roberts' signature to it. Several projects that might benefit from the funds were suggested, including the Westport Water District, which is working to improve the safety of drinking water.

Sabol also asked the Commission for "verbal and moral" backing for Clatsop Community Action's efforts to help needy citizens. He and Marlin Martin, program developer for CCA's food bank program, said use of the county's food bank network went up more than 40 percent in the first quarter of this fiscal year. He said Clatsop County is the second highest in the state in use of food banks. CCA is holding a food drive at the North Coast Fred Meyer starting at 11 a.m. Nov. 22.

The action came in a meeting that covered several key topics. In other business, Ed Wegner, the county's director of community development, told the Commission the railroad embankment along the Columbia River in Knappa/Brownsmead, formerly known as a dike, that was repaired after a breach in December 2005 is beginning to fail again.

In 2005 it was repaired as an emergency, with 75 percent of the cost reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Wegner said. After another breach in December 2006, Wegner said the county started working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, other government agencies and the Portland and Western Railroad on a more permanent fix.

Wegner said he is now worried that heavy rain and extra-high tides may cause another breach that could take out the road and bridge. And, he said, Portland and Western Railroad officials have said they are considering abandoning that part of the line if the problem can't be resolved. That would throw a monkey wrench into the Port of Astoria's plans to buy property at Tongue Point because rail service to the proposed facility is a crucial element.

Wegner said he continues to work with the Corps and has made progress in the complicated process of getting a permit for repairs. Last week, he attended a summit meeting at the Corps' Portland office and discussed the needs of the railroad, the county's needs for safety and economic development. He said he heard from the Corps on Wednesday that the county's application to repair the embankment is complete and the Corps will conduct a biological assessment next week. The next step, he said, is for the National Marine Fisheries Service to put a value on the species that might be affected.

Wegner said he doubts the permit will be ready before the end of the in-water work period, which runs from Nov. 1 to Feb. 28.

"It's kind of a wait-and-see game," Wegner said.

A similar problem on a much smaller scale is affecting land owned by Charles and Alene Linehan on Oregon Highway 202, where a 70-year old tide gate is failing and allow brackish water to flood the property. Last month, the county declared the tide-gate failure an emergency because of concerns that water from Youngs River is undermining the roadway.

Commissioner John Raichl raised the issue again Wednesday, saying the Corps of Engineers doesn't seem recognize the seriousness of the problem because it affects only a few people. "It might not be important to the Corps, but it's very important to our citizens," Raichl said. "This isn't acceptable. We're not able to take care of our community this way." He suggested forming an interstate group of local agencies on both sides of the Columbia to address issues such as the failing railroad embankment and tide gate.

Dr. Linehan, a retired Astoria physician, said today the long driveway that leads to his home was completely flooded over with water last night, making it necessary to drive very slowly in order to navigate it. He said the faulty tide gate has also flooded neighbors' land, which now cannot be used for dairy operations and grazing livestock.

He said county officials have been very helpful and so have other agencies. "ODOT is on our side. Fish and Wildlife is on our side. Division of State Lands, NMFS, endangered species act," Linehan said. "The stickler has been the Corps of Engineers. They're not addressing the issue."

Linehan said he still hopes it can be resolved. "That would be really nice," he said.


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