The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Commissioners work to allay concerns over dredging impacts


April 27, 2017

Wahkiakum County officials continue to wrestle with issues surrounding their effort to set up a long term dredge spoils disposal program for eroding beaches.

Acting as commissioners for flood zone control districts (FZCD), commissioners are applying to the US Army Corps of Engineers for permits to set a 10-year beach nourishment program.

As part of the program, commissioners need each property owner in a district to sign a right-of-entry easment to allow dredging crews to work on their shoreline property, and there are some property owners who are holding out their signatures for a variety of reasons.

The Corps stipulates that all properties in a district must sign the right-of-entry; for economic efficiency, they won't approve a piecemeal beach nourishment program.

There are a variety of reasons for the holdouts. Commissioners say one land owner is philosophically opposed to government activity on his property. Others, especially along Puget Island's East Sunny Sands, oppose a separate spoils project that would deposit, over a period of years, as much as 2.5 million cubic yards of sand on farmland inside the Island dike.

One of these is Bob Getchell.

"I won't sign a right-of-entry," he told the board of commissioners on Tuesday. "I'm opposed to sand inside the dike. I don't want to look across the street and see a mountain of sand.

"I don't plan to sign unless it's even with the dike."

Others opposed to signing have said they don't have erosion on their property, they don't like giving someone access to their land, or that they don't want a large mound of sand between them and the river.

Getchell's concern relates to a disposal site created by the coalition of upriver ports that deepened the Columbia River Channel to 43 feet in 2010. The coalition identified a number of sites for disposal of large amounts of sand, and the East Sunny Sands site, owned by Philip and Ivy Lou Vik, is the last to be developed.

Philip Vik told commissioners and their audience on Tuesday that the ports approached him 20 years ago. He initially opposed the site, but when the upriver ports obtained authority from Port District 2 of Wahkiakum County to conduct operations in the district, he realized he had to work with them.

He said he negotiated the maximum disposal height down from 35 to 25 feet and he negotiated a 600-foot setback from the dike road before they raised elevation above the level of the dike.

The ports' 20-year lease of Vik's land is still not signed; port officials have previously said they need approval of a shoreline management substantial development permit from Wahkiakum County to complete the deal, which would also lead to finishing touches on the management plan for the site.

The ports' shoreline permit application passed out of the county planning commission and has been waiting several weeks to come onto the board of commissioners' agenda.

Commissioners have previously said they don't want to approve the permit until there is a commitment to place sand on the eroding beaches before any is placed inland. Coalition representatives have said they can't make that commitment.

"We've been trying to use that permit as leverage," Commissioner Blair Brady said Tuesday. "We're trying to get commitments; I want it in writing."

However, commissioners seemed to acknowledge Tuesday that the permit is ready for action and they can't delay it indefinitely.

Brady said he wanted to confer with Prosecuting Attorney Dan Bigelow about the possible need for ordinances governing noise and light pollution, road weight limits, and height restrictions.

"Once we have had a chance to review the answers to our questions, we can act," he said.

Commissioner Dan Cothren said he had had many telephone calls about dredging issues since the town hall meeting April 18 with coalition representatives. He said he respects the comments he received.

Another complaint is the language in the right-of-entry easements. Some property owners feel it would give the Corps and the dredging crews too much access to their land.

Commissioners respond that they and the prosecutor have negotiated the language with the Corps' attorneys over many months.

In a process going back about a year, the Corps rejected an easement used in a nourishment project 10 years ago and developed a new easement. The county requested changes, and the Corps modified the easement. The county sent the easement to property owners; many signed them but some objected, and the county sent the easement back to the Corps with requests for more changes. The revised easement has now been received and sent to the unsigned property owners.

"The wordage--we hammered it," Commissioner Cothren said. "This is what we've got. You've got to realize what we're up against."

Property owners experiencing erosion would like those reluctant to sign easements to consider the impact on their neighbors.

"I've been though a number of disposal projects," said East Sunny Sands resident Mariane Brightbill. "There's never a mountain of sand between you and the river. They are never in the front yard; all their entry is from the beach."

Cape Horn resident Tris Shroyer urged the reluctant signers to consider what's happening to their neighbors' property. People are losing trees and outbuildings; the erosion is starting to threaten foundations of houses.

"My plea is that there's a bigger picture than a view or aesthetics," she said.

In the past, commissioners have hinted at the possible use of their authority of eminent domain to acquire property necessary to produce a cohesive spoils site.

That would be a lengthy legal process, and it would delay placement of spoils that could happen this year.

"I respect property rights, but for the overall good of the community . . . ," Brady said.


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