Triumphant trip yields dredging funds

PHOTO BY SHELBY WOLFE/Newport News-Times | Depoe Bay will be fully dredged under a new funding plan sparked by the visit of local officials to Washington.

DEPOE BAY — A full-court press to get the “World’s Smallest Harbor” dredged of fast-rising mud has paid off for every port in Oregon, according to officials who led the effort.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers revealed a 2019 work plan that would scour Depoe Bay harbor and dramatically boost maintenance dredging at 10 other Oregon coast harbors, plus major shipping lanes on the Columbia River.

The announcement, coming just weeks after Depoe Bay city officials sent personal envoys to Washington D.C. in a last-ditch appeal for funding, was greeted like an early Christmas in a town where scores of jobs were threatened.

“We overcame,” stated Mayor Barbara Leff, who recently threatened to defy federal laws by forming a bucket brigade to dig out silt that has grounded a key fuel dock and imperils the state’s largest charter fishing fleet.

According to the Corps document, Depoe Bay is slated for $868,000 in project money, enough to dredge the port of mud that has grounded fishing boats and to clean out a check dam on South Depoe Creek where tons of silt is oozing into the port.

Moreover, the Corps plan would boost dredging funds for all other Oregon ports from $82.6 million, as requested in the President’s proposed budget, to $117 million. For Newport’s Yaquina Bay, which has also struggled to keep its sea lanes open, dredging funds would increase from a proposed $3.1 million to nearly $4.1 million.

Leff credited a two-person delegation for shaking up the Washington establishment during a fast trip to the nation’s capital in late October. She said Liz Martin, a harbor commissioner, and Loren Goddard, a charter operator and city councilor, impressed the officials who mete out federal port monies based on tonnage shipped through the waterway.

“This is a community where tonnage is not the most important way to judge the impact of the harbor,” said Leff, referring to a Corps yardstick that dismisses recreational boating as a factor in dredging.

Data gathered for the Washington presentation declared that the small port generates about $6.5 million in direct income from fishing and whale watching, enough to support 50 jobs. The popular harbor has 77 slips, with six unusable because of rising silt.

“It adds up, especially for a town of 1,600 that has no tax base,” Leff concluded, saying the town’s ambassadors visited congressional delegates but did their best work in the Byzantine offices of the Corps of Engineers and Office of Management and Budget. “A lot of people in Washington began to realize that. Their visit made the difference.”

Liz Martin agreed, saying the face-to-face calls with Washington bureaucrats tipped the scales in favor of the entire Oregon coast.

“Our trip to D.C. helped bring awareness to all the ports that needed attention,” she asserted, recalling the good news that arrived on Thanksgiving eve. “It was not only a great day for Depoe Bay, but all the Oregon coast.”

Martin was grateful for the attention the delegation received, saying the federal officials were moved by the economic data and dramatic photos — including the picture of a boat worker standing ankle-deep in the middle of the harbor at low tide.

“It just shows the power of being there in person,” she reflected. “We had a compelling story.”

State Representative David Gomberg applauded the Corps decision to dredge Depoe Bay and boost funding for the overall 2019 Corps work plan. Depoe Bay was the only port on Oregon’s west coast that failed to get federal dredging funds in 2018.

“This is great news for our working ports,” said the 10th District legislator. “At least Mayor Leff won’t have to go to jail, now.”

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