It's Time to Get Serious
by Chelsea Gorrow
Sen. Wyden tours deteriorating structures that keep Columbia River commerce viable
WARRENTON - The Columbia River jetties need vast improvements - and fast.
A century after the jetties were constructed, erosion has taken its toll on the front door of the Columbia River, and if they aren't restored and rebuilt, the expected timeline before they fail is six to eight years, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who presented the project to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., at the South Jetty Friday.
Wyden will be taking the request back to Washington, D.C., in support of the project and in hopes of securing the funding to do so.
The project is expected to cost more than $160 million for the first phase of restoration, and Wyden said he would be making the case, dollar-for-dollar, to those on the East Coast who don't necessarily know what jetties are and why they are so important.
"Obviously, with the progress we're making in dredging, what the jetty's all about is protecting a critical investment," Wyden said. "We have had repair and maintenence efforts in the past, but what we have to do now is get serious about rebuilding and planning for the long-term."
Col. Steven Miles, a Portland District Engineer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, began the presentation on the viewing platform at the South Jetty, explaining to Wyden that the front door of the Columbia is directly behind him and is faced with some of the most powerful waves in the world every day.
A rehabilitation study is under way - and has been for quite some time - to ensure a smart investment, Miles said.
"We need to make sure we make a smart investment because it's going to be a large investment for the nation to rehabilitate the jetty system," he said. This includes South Jetty, North Jetty and Jetty A.
"That report is the road map to the next 20 years to rebuilt these jetty systems so we can provide reliability to some of the stakeholders that goes over that bar every day ... We've had a breach in the past and we could have a breach in the future. The bar would become very dangerous and ships may not be able to come in."
Laura Hicks, a project manager for the Portland District Army Corps of Engineers, added that nearly $17 billion in commerce comes through the mouth of the Columbia River every year and serves the whole nation, not just the North Coast.
"We transport wheat, corn, greens out of the Midwest. This is not just a North Coast project," she said. "The Columbia River is second in the world for importing wheat and we need these jetties to maintain that entire system."
(bluefish: Hicks would have been correct had she said "exporting")
Wyden added, "This is absolutely key to the economy and to the quality of life in our part of the country."
Approximately 20 people were at the presentation, including the engineers, Astoria City Councilman Russ Warr, and county commissioners Patricia Roberts and Dirk Rohne.
Warr said the area had been known as "The Graveyard of the Pacific" for 150 years and if the jetties failed, it would return to that status. "This is vital to us," he said.
Once a century was appropriate for the federal government to repair and protect a crucial part of the North Coast, Wyden said, and he would do his best presenting the case to Washington, D.C.
Hicks added that the project had been done right, it was "just time to reinvest in it."
Miles added, "These are the silent structures that do so much for the nation, and it's always great to have an opportunity to educate, whether it's the senator or the public. They've been doing so much for the nation for 100 years and we're all about reliability for our structures and infrastructures and I think I owe it to the nation to say when it's time to start beginning to think about rehabilitating the structures."
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