Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Depoe Bay dock project stalled

by $1 million shortfall, red tape

The “World’s Smallest Harbor” is home to Oregon’s largest whalewatching and charter-fishing fleet. Tiny as it is at just six acres, Depoe Bay harbor has 90 slips threatened by deteriorating docks. (Photo by Rick Beasley)
The “World’s Smallest Harbor” is home to Oregon’s largest whalewatching and charter-fishing fleet. Tiny as it is at just six acres, Depoe Bay harbor has 90 slips threatened by deteriorating docks. (Photo by Rick Beasley)

DEPOE BAY — A $2.9 million grant to repair three dilapidated public docks isn’t nearly enough to do the job, city officials learned this week as a planned October construction date dissolved.

Moreover, a key government agency has declined to sign-off on the project, citing environmental concerns. Those roadblocks were revealed Tuesday, Sept. 20, at a joint meeting of harbor commissioners and city councilors who struggled to figure a way around the obstacles.

The boat docks have become so dangerous that Mayor Kathy Short once declared she couldn’t sleep at night over worries that someone might be hurt. So the harbor community rejoiced last year when Depoe Bay received $2.9 million to rebuild them with funds from the federal American Rescue Act. State Rep. Dave Gomberg and State Senator Dick Anderson were key figures in directing the money to Depoe Bay.

Councilor Jerome Grant sparked a round of handwringing when he suggested scaling back the scope of work to repair just one or two of the docks pitted by corrosion and decades of wear.

“I hope it works out and we end up constructing the whole thing, but realistically, it’s not there,” Grant asserted. “We’re a million short.”

A federal agency, the National Marine Fisheries Service, has also declined to approve the project over concerns about the up-sized dock design. To mitigate the effects of on marine life, the city would have to shrink the project by 3,750 sf or remove a nearby check dam that slows accumulation of silt in the harbor. In 2021, a dredging company removed 2,000 cubic yards of silt behind the dam.

“Three porous docks are replacing three non-porous docks that have been there for 50 years and that should be enough, but NMFS doesn’t like it that way,” fumed Harbor Commissioner Jack O’Brien.

Some officials remained hopeful a solution can be found. There was agreement to contact the state’s Congressional leaders to eliminate the impasse with the federal agency. Councilor Fran Recht asserted the city could trade the environmental requirements by working on regional wetlands or paying for dike removal along the Siletz River. Harbor commissioner Liz Martin claimed the USDA was awash in money and could close the funding gap with another grant.

“We know we have challenges but we’re not ready to build just one or two,” countered Liz Martin of the harbor commission. “If we have more positive input, more will happen. “I’m not letting go until we get more funding.”

Instead of starting construction next month, the group will meet again Oct. 4 to sort out the predicament.

Rick Beasley
Rick Beasley
Special to Homepage, Rick Beasley is an award-winning journalist across newsprint and digital media. Also founder of the Depoe Bay Beacon and Beacon Media.

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