Columbia River jetty rehab is next project

Dave Hunt

Deepening the Columbia River’s shipping channel to 43 feet already has boosted exports of farm crops and other goods from Oregon.

But the eroding jetties at the river’s mouth also are in danger of breaching in the next few years if they aren’t improved.

Dave Hunt, executive director of the Columbia River Channel Coalition, brought that message to Umatilla County Thursday when he spoke to the Hermiston Rotary Club and visited with newspaper editors and reporters.

Since dredging was competed in November, and the river channel from Astoria to Portland deepened to 43 feet, exports already have surpassed their 2008 level, Hunt said. That’s because the deeper river allows cargo vessels to take on 6,000 more tons than they could before dredging.

That’s 12 million pounds, which equals 200,000 bushels of wheat or about 194 full shipping containers weighing an average of 62,000 pounds.

“Ninety percent of Oregon’s wheat is exported,” he said, “and almost all of that goes out of the Columbia River.”

The river is an important resource to Oregon’s agricultural economy, so the damaged jetties must be addressed next, Hunt said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been tracking the erosion and has developed a 20-year plan for repairs. Unlike the channel deepening, however, the jetty repair plan is divided into 20 one-year segments. The entire project is expected to cost $400 million to $470 million.

The south jetty, which originally extended 7 miles into the Pacific Ocean, was completed in 1913. One mile of that has eroded, Hunt said, but the Corps doesn’t intend to replace it, but to build a “hard cap” at the end.

The north jetty, on the Washington side, was built out 2.5 miles into the ocean from 1914-1917. One-quarter mile of it has eroded. The Corps completed some repairs in the 1950s and ’60s, Hunt said, but some sections of the north jetty never have been repaired.

“This is the next big infrastructure issue,” he said, “but it’s a federal project.”

Hunt also commented on the three-month closure of navigation locks at The Dalles, John Day and Lower Monumental dams. He said the closure, which began Dec. 13 and is expected to continue through mid-March, has been somewhat inconvenient, but certainly is less inconvenient than if the Corps had waited until one of the lock gates failed.

“It’s gone about as well as it could have,” he said.

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