On the morning of January 17, 2013, residents of Wheeler looking at the Nehalem River noticed something peculiar: a gravelly mound of dredge spoils rearing its head in the river channel, right in the middle of a favorite fishing hole. How this happened is a long and involved saga, but ended in triumph — the Port of Nehalem obeyed the agencies’ mandate to remove the dredge spoils from their ill-conceived dredging project, and restore the river. Here’s the story.
In December 2011, the Port applied to the Corps of Engineers for a permit to dredge the Wheeler Marina and docks, which have a problem with encroaching mudflats. The application went through several iterations, but finally in April 2012 the Port quietly dropped Wheeler from the project, and proposed only to dredge Deer Island Slough, a non-navigable side channel whose dredging would principally benefit a few docks belonging to residents of the City of Nehalem, and the Port itself, whose dock is at the far end of the Slough. During the dredging, the Port removed approximately 500 dump truck loads of material, about 4,900 cubic yards.
After complaints from Wheeler residents, who feared their problem with mudflats would be worsened by the dredge spoils in the river, the Department of State Lands directed the Port to take action. In February 2013, the Port partially leveled the pyramid of dredge spoils, but the mound was still there, just under the surface of the water. DSL in March then ordered the Port to remove the spoils by use of a bucket. The email was explicit:
“Use a bucket to remove the mound of material that is approximately 12′ high in the center of the river channel. This material is heavy. It will not disperse naturally this year, and it may not disperse after heavy flow this winter…please complete the work within the next two weeks.”
[Email from Carrie Landrum of DSL to Bill Campbell, March 14, 2013].
Instead, the Port spread the spoils along the river bottom using a weighted steel bar. This led DSL to issue another letter in June 2013, requiring the Port to take soundings in January 2014, and then remove the spoils by bucket and restore the river channel. DSL also pointed out that the Port had illegally dredged to a greater depth than the permit allowed, thus making the problem worse. ORCA followed the process closely and encouraged DSL to take firmer action against the Port.
In March 2014, DSL finally placed the Port under enforcement to clean up the dredging spoils, and also issued a small civil penalty of $6,000. DSL required the Port to remove the spoils “using a method approved by the Department” and restore the navigable channel to a depth of -20 NGVD. Spoils were to be placed on a barge and taken to an upland facility. The US Army Corps of Engineers also placed the Port under enforcement in March 2014. ORCA made sure the enforcement orders were available to Wheeler residents, and also urged the agencies to hold the line and insist the ill-fated dredging project be cleaned up.
The Port cooperated with DSL and the Corps of Engineers in the enforcement process. Finally, in early March 2015, the work was finished. The dredge spoils were pumped to a site at the local sewage treatment plant, and the river bottom restored. Congratulations to the agencies, and especially to Port of Nehalem officials, who succeeded in their task at last!