Merkley holds town halls on the South Coast

The World

Senator Jeff Merkley made his annual stop for Town Halls along the South Coast this month. On Friday, June 7th, the Senator help events in North Bend and Gold Beach to hear questions from the media and public, and address local concerns. Mayor Jessica Engelke took up emcee duties in North Bend, with State Rep. Court Boice doing the honors in Gold Beach.

Along with his counterpart, Senator Wyden, the Oregon senatorial team are the only in the nation to hold a Town Hall in every county in their constituent state. Around 80 people showed for each event, and attendees had a chance to ask questions via a raffle system.

Senator Merkley began both Town Halls by honoring a local charitable organization. In Coos Bay, the Lions Club was chosen. In Curry County Wally’s House received the recognition. Each group was presented with an American Flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol as a thank you for their community efforts.

In Gold Beach, the Senator himself was honored by the Oregon Anglers Alliance for his role in assisting the Cole Rivers Hatchery, which has done important work to revitalize the Rogue River’s salmon population.

As the questions rolled in, it was clear that both counties had significant overlap in their concerns, with questions over offshore wind energy at the top of the list. Merkley expressed hesitation over the readiness of the technology, and frustration with the process BOEM has undertaken.

“They haven’t done things in the Oregon way,” expressed Merkley.

‘The Oregon Way’ is something the Senator spoke of often. According to Merkley, that means being respectful even when you don’t necessarily agree, but more importantly as far as BOEM is concerned, it means bringing all the stakeholders together for the discussion. This is where Merkley has problems, he doesn’t believe that BOEM are properly listening to everyone who may be affected by the installation of turbines off the coast.

“The challenge is, that in this particular setting we don’t really have the technology developed for floating wind turbines, and there hasn’t been a dialogue with all of our stakeholders. Anything that explores a new use of the ocean in Oregon needs to be part of the ‘Oregon Way’, where stakeholders are fully part of the conversation from the very beginning,” said Merkley.

A Democratic Senator in an otherwise red part of the coast was bound to get some tricky questions. A gentleman in North Bend asked the senator how he plans to convince politically entrenched communities like the ones on the South Coast. Merkley’s response was to fall back on an admittedly impressive track record.

“As I travel around the state, every community has issues that they are really working on. It may be their top challenge is fresh water, or wastewater treatment, maybe it’s a key bridge reinforcement, whatever their top issue is. Then I fight for that through our community initiative projects, and we’ve been able over the last three years to get 475 projects funded across the state,” said Merkley to the media.

One of these projects is the redevelopment of the Coos County Annex in North Bend into workers’ housing. With concerns over Oregon’s housing crisis only growing across the state, Markley recognized that expanding housing opportunities on the South Coast is an important local issue, not to mention how it ties in with Oregon’s homelessness issues.

The unhoused crisis is a topic that has been inescapable throughout the State. Merkley sees failings on multiple fronts with the homelessness crisis (i.e. mental health, addiction, the economy), and believes the solutions should be just as multifaceted.

“If you just see the surge in homeless individuals trying to find a place to sleep at night, you know something has gone terribly wrong. And the answer is to tackle it from all three directions, we need a lot more programs for behavioral health, a lot more programs to help address addiction. And certainly, we need an economy that makes it possible for an ordinary individual to function with a basic income,” said Merkley on homelessness solutions.

The son of a millwright, and locally raised in Douglass County, Merkley spoke about his appreciation for the State’s more rural communities. Let’s hope that appreciation continues in the Senator’s legislative record.