DEPOE BAY — With five crewmen on board and two weeks worth of work ahead of him, Brian Lofgren, owner of Underwater Earth Movers, Inc., went about his first full day of duties dredging Depoe Bay Harbor.
“The actual dredging part is the easiest,” Lofgren told the News-Times on Wednesday. “The set-up is more difficult than anything else. The surge from the ocean is challenging, too.”
Dredging work on the world’s smallest harbor started Wednesday after more than a year of challenging federal bureaucrats and politicians to funnel dredging money Depoe Bay’s way. The rising silt levels in the six-acre harbor left some boats grounded and left the city’s fuel dock inaccessible to operators during low and receding tides.
“At low tide, no boats can get to the fueling dock,” said Depoe Bay Mayor Robert Gambino. “That part really needs to be dredged.”
Dredging efforts weren’t always so contentious. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used to dredge the Depoe Bay Harbor every five years, according to city officials, but in an annual dredging list released in April 2017, Depoe Bay appeared to be one of two Oregon harbors that were “zeroed-out” in the 2018 ranking. Tillamook Bay Harbor was the other to get booted from the list.
“Hopefully not in the future,” said Gambino when asked if this fight will come up again. “We have real good connections in D.C. thanks to a delegation that volunteered to go to D.C., and we have a lobbyist back there who advocates for ports. He does good work over there.”
Without federal money to pay for harbor dredging, silt deposited by incoming rivers and streams into the Depoe Bay Harbor would have closed it to boat traffic eventually. This would have impacted hundreds of local jobs and deterred recreational fishermen from using the small, but busy harbor.
“I think the most important aspect is the port was filling up, and it was becoming a lot more difficult to do business there,” said Rep. David Gomberg (D-District 10). “Part of this means there were problems at the filling station, as well. That affects local businesses and the tourism economy.”
Despite Army Corps of Engineers officials initially not committing to dredging in 2019, either, a small team of local ambassadors visited the nation’s capitol last October to convince officials from the corps, the White House Office of Management and Budget and Oregon’s congressional delegation to funnel the necessary $868,000 to scour the seafloor of the harbor.
The lobbying trip worked. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers not only gave Depoe Bay the money necessary to dredge the harbor, but boosted the budget for dredging all Oregon harbors to $117 million, well over the $82.6 million local representatives asked for. Yaquina Bay, too, saw an increase in dredging money from $3.1 million to $4.1 million.
While this isn’t the last time Depoe Bay Harbor will need dredging, officials said every time the dredging is done, the next time gets easier.
“There’s a better understanding of the role of small harbors and harbors that don’t ship anything,” said Gomberg of federal officials’ reaction to small ports like the one in Depoe Bay. “That doesn’t mean they’re not a critical part of the statewide economy.”