FLORENCE – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley spoke at the Oregon Coast Economic Summit on Wednesday, highlighting his work for Oregon’s coastal communities and promising to keep pushing to maximize funds for small port dredging, a major driver of local coastal economies and an important source of jobs. Merkley also received recognition from the Oregon Legislative Coastal Caucus for his previous work to secure funding for small ports, both in Oregon and across America.
“Our coastal communities rely on critical infrastructure that has to be maintained, which is why I am fighting so hard for Harbor Maintenance Funds for our small ports,” Merkley said. “Strong coastal economies are essential for good-paying family-wage jobs. I’ll keep working in partnership with our coastal leaders on the many important issues for our coastal communities.”
State Sen. Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay), who hosted the event, asked Sen. Merkley how he had pushed the federal government to pay attention to small ports and their critical role in Oregon’s economy. Merkley reiterated the critical role that dredging and jetty maintenance plays in the operation of any port. He noted that in past years small ports are too often “woefully underfunded” by the federal government, which is why Merkley secured $40 million for small ports this past fiscal year.
In recent years, as a result of changes in the National Flood Insurance Program, homeowners and business-owners on the coast faced skyrocketing flood insurance premiums, which posed a threat to homeownership and economic development. Roblan noted Sen. Merkley’s role in bringing Congress’s attention to this issue by chairing a hearing on the subject and convening a bipartisan group of lawmakers to work on legislation, which led to passage of a bipartisan bill that provided immediate relief to families who faced spiking flood insurance rates.
The coastal caucus also asked Merkley about the high cost of levee certification, which is required for many small Oregon communities that have levees for flood protection. If these levees are not recertified, FEMA reclassifies the land as being in a flood plain, which causes flood insurance for properties behind the levee to spike. Merkley made it possible for local governments to request that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – instead of private contractors — perform levee recertification, greatly reducing costs.
Roblan noted that as the first Oregonian since Sen. Mark Hatfield to serve on the Appropriations Committee in either the House or Senate, Merkley has worked to get Oregon’s coast adequate funding. He has pushed to designate $11 million for research on ocean acidification to improve conditions at oyster hatcheries across Oregon and to include language that lets Oregon’s commercial fishermen use less-costly electronic monitoring instead of in-person monitors.
Merkley asked for continuing input from all stakeholders at the summit and emphasized the importance of Oregonians’ input in producing legislation that helps communities across Oregon. He cited the example of a key water infrastructure bill included in the Water Resources Development Act. Traveling across the state, Merkley had heard repeatedly from local leaders the challenges they faced in upgrading or replacing water and sewage infrastructure – including in many coastal communities that were struggling with aging systems that could threaten public health and limit future growth. Merkley worked to create a more affordable way to finance those projects so that local governments and ratepayers don’t have to take on an unaffordable burden. That proposal, the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, passed this spring and will give communities access to low-interest loans to create good-paying construction jobs and protect our communities’ health and safety.
Most recently Sen. Merkley has pressed the administration to continue protecting Oregon’s and Washington’s coasts from the risks of offshore drilling.