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

Commissioners, public review dredging delays


October 11, 2018

Wahkiakum County officials covered a lot of issues when the board of county commissioners met Tuesday, but most of it revolved around erosion.

County officials have been working for two years to set up a 10-year program with the US Army Corps of Engineers to place sand dredged out of the Columbia River shipping channel along eroding shorelines on Puget Island and at Cape Horn on the mainland.

In the summer, officials and property owners had been told it was likely that Cape Horn would have beach nourishment in late September or October, but they learned at the start of October comment periods for their permit applications that will likely delay the programs till 2019.

Dredging and beach nourishment can occur only at certain times of the year when fish aren't running up or down stream. The current dredging window will end in November and re-open in February. Residents of both Cape Horn and East Sunny Sands fear another winter of erosion will send outbuilding and even septic systems into the river.

County commissioners last week said they would seek support from offices of US Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler and Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray to expedite the review process.

And that happened.

Dena Horton, Sen. Cantwell's regional representative, reported she had telephoned the appropriate official in the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) headquarters in Washington, D.C. to encourage expediting of their review.

"I asked them if they wanted to have outbuildings and septic tanks and toxic materials in the river during the fish runs," Horton said Tuesday. "They said, ‘Oh, we'll call our state office."

Staff of Sen. Murray and Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler were also expected to make inquiries.

Another water quality permit is handled by the Washington State Department of Ecology, Horton said, and she recommended county officials and property owners contact state representatives and the governor's office to expedite that review.

Property owners expressed frustration with the delays.

They said they had been told by county officials that permits were ready and by a Corps survey crew that dredging was likely for Cape Horn. Why the delays, they asked.

"Part of the answer to your question is that they [the Corps] keep springing surprises on us," responded Commissioner Blair Brady. "It's beyond our control."

Cape Horn resident Richard Erickson suggested the county's engineering consultant handling the permit application should have a checklist of what's required and so there should be no last-minute surprises.

"Isn't there some heads who should rattle or roll," he asked.

"Even our consultant has been blindsided a lot," responded Commissioner Dan Cothren.

"The consultant can only respond to what's required," said county Public works Director Chuck Beyer. "They're right on the spot."

And the survey crew's prediction was too optimistic, Horton said.

"I think the survey crew were hopeful the permits would be done," she said. "It's unfortunate with the way they worded things that they set up expectations."


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