The Port of Ilwaco has invested about $470,000 in a newer dredge to keep its marina scoured, but concerns over dredge spoils and a silting channel mean challenges remain.
The port spent about $470,000 buying the newer dredge from Underwater Earthmovers of Vancouver, and getting it setup in Ilwaco, said Port Manager Guy Glenn Jr.
The port’s old workhorse was smaller and starting to wear out, he said.
This new unit is also a lot more nimble than the old one. It leapfrogs along whereas the old had to be repositioned and anchored with cables.
Dredging started in October. Crews scooped into the silty floor and spit out the spoils for six days a week, about 10 hours a day, Glenn said.
The port expected to finish work for the year just before Christmas.
The new dredge, with its larger capacity, proved to be a hit.
“Within the first two weeks of dredging we estimate we got as much done as we did last year,” Glenn said. “We’ve probably got as much done as at least the last five years or so.”
Buying a dredge has large upfront costs for the port, but it’s cheaper in the long term, he said.
Contracting the work out could cost $50,000 just to get the dredge to the port, then $8,000 to $12,000 a day, Glenn said.
The port estimates it costs about $1,500 a day to operate the dredge with a crew of three.
The spoils of war
Cost of the dredge itself is not the port’s biggest challenge, Glenn said.
There’s still room for more dredge spoils at the port’s 6-acre site, but it will eventually reach capacity.
Sand Island lies just across the state border, but it’s close enough for the port to use for dredge spoils.
There’s an approved dumpsite on the island, former port manager Jim Neva said.
The last time it was used for dredge spoils was in 1970s, he added.
Glenn said getting dredge spoils to the island would require more pipe and a booster pump. That would be very costly, he said.
Keeping the marina deep enough for the commercial and recreational boats that call it home won’t mean much if the channel to the marina is choked with sand and silt.
Responsibility for dredging the channel rests with Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps announced in May that it would not dredge the channel in 2014.
Since then, the Ports of Ilwaco and Chinook have pressed federal representatives to find funding for dredging their vital channels.
The Port of Ilwaco’s new dredge may be able to help ease the burden. It can handle dredging its channel to about the U.S. Coast Guard Station at Cape Disappointment, Glenn said.
The Corps would have to take over from there because that’s where the water gets rougher and the current picks up.
If an arrangement could be made for the port to handle dredging a portion of the channel and pumping the spoils to Sand Island, it could make the port’s extra expenses of using Sand Island for spoils worth it, he said.
“If we work with the Corps to help maintain the channel, it makes more sense economically,” he added.
Neva said contracting some of the work with the port would save the Corps money while helping the port.
It costs the Corps about $250,000 just to get its dredge to the port and remove it when the work is done, he said.
He’s discussed the issue with the Corps as well as using Sand Island, and the response was positive, but nothing is in writing. When he asked about using Sand Island it took nine months to get a response.
“The Corps moves so darn slowly, it takes forever,” Neva said. You get discouraged in the process.”
Glenn said last week’s announcement of a federal budget deal offers hope for getting the channel dredged.
Neva explained, without a budget it would have been at least summer of 2015 before the channel would be dredged.
“With the budget passing, there will be a pot of money for us to compete for,” he said.
The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund spending budget includes $30 million for the Corps to maintain access to small ports.
The Port of Ilwaco will have to compete with hundreds of other ports across the nation for those limited funds, Neva said.
The port will have to show need. A 51-foot fishing boat that ran aground in May and revised navigation charts showing the channel getting narrower and shallower should cover that, Neva said.
Importance of the port will also come into play. Having a Coast Guard Station on the channel helps make the case, he said.
Then it’s a matter of the Economic Development Council working with ports showing the economic value of the ports in the county, and we have that data, Neva said.