New city planner splits time in Rockaway Beach

Many small Oregon communities rely on timeshares.

By Brad Mosher

But Rockaway Beach relies on human timesharing when it comes to staffing city offices.

Ryan Crater is the latest part-timer on the city payroll.

He replaced the former city planner, Jay Sennewald, in September.

Crater works for the Columbia River Estuaries Studies Task Force (CREST) and is based in Astoria. “I work for them, but we are under contract with Rockaway Beach to provide planning services. What attracted CREST to it (the city) was the opportunity to help out the small communities in Oregon.

“We typically help out the surrounding cities who are council members,” he said.

On the Washington side of the Columbia River, CREST provides services to communities like Ilwaco or Whatcom County.

On the Oregon side of the river, CREST has a hand in Warrenton, The Port of Astoria and the City of Astoria in Clatsop County. In addition to Rockaway Beach, CREST also provides services to Vernonia.

With the move into Rockaway Beach area, CREST has expanded its normal area centered around the Columbia River, Crater said.

He has been with CREST since January of 2012, after working as a county planner for Pacific County and as a Category 2 nuclear manager in Hanford. “Prior to that, I was a planner for Mason County (in Washington).”

One aspect of his background that may immediately help Rockaway Beach is his experience in storm water systems.

Crater admitted that with the recent flooding in December that experience may help the community. “Washington is a little more stringent on storm water control than Oregon. It is definitely applicable here. There are things that people need to consider. Water erodes all kinds of things – rocks, soil, wood, concrete. Some things happen faster than others, but those things need to be taken into consideration – especially when building homes and roads, sizing culverts, replacing structures close to wetland streams and in flood plains.”

According to Crater, what planners do is try to help manage development and building so people can avoid mistakes builders might not be aware of at the time. Me personally, I am a dig and doze guy. I love development. I love seeing it coming in. At the same time, I also love clean water, clean beaches, clean air.

“Just like when you are a little kid, you have to regulate how many cookies you take out of the cookie jar,” he said, smiling. “That is not an easy thing to do.”

He said that he considers himself a public servant. “I am here for the people. I am in a government for the people and by the people. I am a firm believer in that and try to protect property rights issues.

“But I also try to protect property rights issues for the whole scheme of things in a city or county.”

Crater said that he wants everybody to be doing the right thing so that they are not affecting somebody else.

He admitted he is already looking at some development next to streams that caused erosion of property during the recent storms. “There were culverts that plugged up and debris that got clogged up in those. We are looking at ways to address that.

“In the long term perspective, planning really looks to address those issues in the future with relevant concrete science in critical areas of regulations,” he said. “The rule of thumb is if you look at a stream and put a culvert in it, you should take that culvert and times it by five. That would be the proper size you need because you are not only moving water but debris and sediment.”

If streams are restricted, that could lead to problems in the future without proper planning, he said.

“It could wreak havoc. That is what planners look at.”

Sometime the regulations could cost people money, Crater admitted. “It is a fine line between what is justified and what isn’t,” he said.

One of the ways Crater is looking to help the community and its residents is trying build ties with non-profit groups. “Sometimes, you have to look outside the box.”

One thing that the recent high rain event the community had in December showcases is the flaws or problems in the current system. “That when you see things are going wrong and the right decisions were not made.

“It is a double-edged sword,” he added, noting some developments may have been in place many years before the problems arise. “It can be a catch-22.”

Sometimes, the public may need to be protected from itself, Crater said. “There has got to be limits, because the end result could be the loss of life.”

Crater’s business day working in Rockaway Beach is every Tuesday.