WARRENTON — Already one of the 15 largest cities in Oregon by area at more than 17 square miles, Warrenton sends about one-third of the water it treats to customers outside city limits, mostly to the south in Clatsop Plains and Gearhart.
With the city at about 70% of capacity and the region experiencing rapid growth, officials plan to have a conversation with neighbors to the south on how to equitably keep the water flowing.
Mayor Henry Balensifer, who has established the new mantra “Warrenton for Warrenton,” said he is concerned about the sprawl in Clatsop Plains and the potential impact an overstretched water supply could have on future industrial development.
The mayor said during a City Commission meeting on Tuesday that he had been hearing people talk about, “’Oh, we’re just going to build everything in Clatsop Plains.‘Well that’s all well and good, but if housing in Clatsop Plains is going to keep industrial development in Warrenton from happening, we need to look to our city limits first and foremost.”
Developers often locate outside city limits for lower building costs while hooking up to municipal utilities. But the extra 50% customers pay for water outside the city limits likely doesn’t cover the cost to the city to maintain pipes, Balensifer said.
Collin Stelzig, the city’s public works director, estimated the city should be spending about $1 million a year on replacing pipes, with connections per mile two to three times higher farther outside city limits. That’s something the city needs to explain to Gearhart and the county, he said.
“I don’t think we need to be enabling developing infrastructure that we may or may not be able to afford to maintain, and that ends up going on our taxpayers to do so,” he said.
Warrenton’s main water treatment plant and reservoir are located east of Gearhart and Seaside. The city has water rights to pull water from four dams along upper forks of the Lewis and Clark River and Camp Creek.
“Our water treatment plant has great capacity,” Stelzig said. “This has more to do with what water’s available.”
The city has struggled to maximize the water it’s allowed to take from the creeks, he said, and has looked at various solutions, such as building larger reservoirs or removing the dams and taking in water more directly from larger sections of the Lewis and Clark downstream.
Stelzig said he plans to speak with consultants on the city’s master water plan before reaching out to neighbors in the coming months.
On Tuesday, the City Commission unanimously approved an amendment to its urban renewal plan meant to guide redevelopment from the Warrenton Marina south along Main Avenue to Warrenton High School. The amendment would increase the maximum indebtedness of the urban renewal district from the original $1.7 million for downtown improvement projects to nearly $12 million.
After recessing to meet as the city’s Urban Renewal Agency, the City Commission on Tuesday also approved a renewed license for Tres Bro’s, a Nicaraguan food cart that opened in the spring on a vacant lot next to City Hall. Commissioners also approved a new license for Sasquatch Sandwiches, which started in Astoria but has added a food truck that will split time between Clatsop Community College campuses and downtown Warrenton.
The City Commission approved spending $6,000 in urban renewal funds on a local match for a state Department of Land Conservation and Development grant that will pay for the creation of an economic development strategy to bring more business downtown.
Commissioner Rick Newton described it as Warrenton’s version of Advance Astoria, an economic development plan Kevin Cronin, Warrenton’s community development director, spearheaded when he worked for Astoria.
The commission also approved the first reading of a $750 flat-rate application fee for deferred submittals in building permits. Bob Johnson, the city’s building official, argued that reviewing building permits anew after deferred submittals is time-consuming. The higher flat fee is meant to incentivize developers submitting complete applications the first time around, he said.