By Larry Coonrod
NEWPORT—The Port of Newport will consider buying back the Bayfront sea lion docks for $1 later this month from the nonprofit group restoring them. When age and winter storms began taking their toll on the docks below Port Dock 1 three years ago, local merchants formed the nonprofit Newport Sea Lion Docks Foundation to rebuild the popular tourist attraction. The port transferred ownership of the docks to the foundation.To date the Sea Lion Foundation has spent more than $100,000 installing new pilings and concrete floating docks. With in-water work complete, the foundation hopes to complete the project this summer with a six-foot wide, 75-foot long viewing platform attached to Port Dock 1.
As previously agreed, the foundation is requesting the port buy the docks back for $1. “It’s been a real success,” said Sea Lion Docks Foundation board member Stan Pickens. “If you have been down to the docks we have a lot of sea lions down there.” The Sea Lion Docks Foundation submitted the sale agreement to the port board of commissioners in late February. Port officials said they want more time to work out the terms of maintenance with the foundation before approving the sale.
Unmatched Viewing Opportunity
Sea lions quickly commandeered the original docks, built in the 1990s and intended for small sport boats, becoming one of the Bayfront’s main tourist attractions. In terms of wildlife viewing, the sea lion docks are unmatched. No other site on the West Coast allows visitors such a close up view of the mammals. For the foundation that meant with no precedent it had to design the project from the ground up.
Extensive Permitting Process
Foundation members originally estimated the cost of new sea lion docks at $25,000. Besides an enormous fundraising hurdle, the project had to snake its way through a maze of federal and state permitting processes and regulations. Early on, the foundation learned that environmental regulations no longer permit the use of treated wood products in dock construction, greatly adding to the cost. In another requirement, wildlife officials wanted a modular dock with spaces between haul out platforms to allow light to reach the water below. “This is a complex thing,” Pickens said. “We had a lot of people weighing in on it.”
To date, the foundation has raised more than $100,000 through grants and donations, including major contributions from Lincoln County, City of Newport, Oregon Community Foundation, Myer Memorial Trust and the Elizabeth Street Inn. Pickens estimates his group needs to raise another $50,000 to complete the viewing platform. The foundation agreed to build the platform at the request of the Port of Newport. On warm days, dozens of visitors pack Port Dock 1 to observe the sea lions 30 feet below.
Port Dock 1, however, remains a working commercial fishing dock and port officials want sea lion viewers moved off the main dock to avoid conflict or injury with machinery and equipment.
Foundation to Pay for Upkeep
Although ownership of the docks will revert to the port, the foundation agreed to pay for ongoing maintenance. “We know that every year when the sea lions are away we’ll have to do maintenance,” said foundation board member Bob Ward. About 300 male California sea lions call Yaquina Bay home 10 months out of the year. In June and July, they migrate to the Channel Islands in southern California to mate with the females who live there year-round.
For more information about the Newport Sea Lion Docks Foundation, go to http://www.newportsealiondocks.com/