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

Long ferry closure ahead; Westend road maintenance sought


February 13, 2020

The ferry Oscar B. will be out of service almost two weeks to go into dry dock for painting and repairs.

The Wahkiakum County Board of Commissioners authorized the shutdown during their meeting on Tuesday.

Commissioners also fielded complaints about maintenance of Oneida Road, heard an update about the spread of the new coronavirus infecting people around the world, and delayed a decision about trimming trees at the Johnson House until they know plans of Port District No. 1 for using the facility on Cathlamet's Division Street.

County Public Works Director Chuck Beyer said the ferry is overdue for drydock repairs and US Coast Guard inspection.

When asked if the work shouldn't be postponed because the ferry had served as a 24-hour detour when SR 4 was closed because of a landslide on KM Mountain, he said the work had already been put off.

"We're already pushing this," Beyer said. "The Coast Guard is insistent. If we don't have a day for drydock, it will be sitting idle."

During the drydock work, crews will do some painting, replace anti-corrosion zinc plates, inspect shafts and do other maintenance work.

The 11-day closure is scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m. Feb. 24 and run through March 4.

A Westend resident pressed commissioners and county road department officials for better maintenance of Oneida Road.

Corbett McMasters said the road crew seems to stop its maintenance work at the boat launch site. From there, the road is barely over eight feet wide and has few turnouts for traffic to pass each other.

He said that he has drawn on his experience in highway maintenance work for the Washington State Department of Transportation to purchase rock and spread it and pack it over eroded portions.

During a recent snowfall, the last mile of the road wasn't cleared, and when the school bus refused to travel beyond the boat launch, he ended up transporting a child.

Commissioners and road department personnel listened.

"We'll look at it," said commission Chair Dan Cothren.

Public health officials continue to monitor the pandemic spread of the new coronavirus, said county Health and Human Services Director Chris Bischoff, and so far, the number of cases isn't increasing in the United States.

As of Tuesday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that of 398 people under investigation for exposure to the respiratory illness, 12 had tested positive, 318 negative, and results of 68 cases were pending.

Bischoff said quarantines for travelers from China where the virus originated and from other areas where it is occurring seem to be containing the spread to the US.

"There is significant concern," he added. "In countries where it has occurred, it has shot off. I suspect it will land in the US."

Measures to avoid contacting the disease are those recommended for avoiding other illnesses: Wash hands often; avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth; also stay home if ill and cover mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.

Bischoff added that in times like this when concern is growing about a new disease, scammers go to work. Scammers are telephoning people and saying they're from the CDC or local health department and asking for personal information.

"There are no calls," Bischoff said. Only in extraordinary circumstances such as an outbreak in Wahkiakum County would the local health department or similar agency contact people by telephone.

People who feel they have symptoms aren't advised to contact their health providers unless they have a direct route of contact to someone who has been exposed, he said.

Bischoff also commented that the Trump Administration budget announced Monday would cut funding for the CDC.

"I don't want to be political, but given the current circumstances, that's unacceptable," he said. "That would eliminate our ability to respond."

Commissioners put off a decision on clearing trees off the Johnson House lot until next week when they'll have heard if Port District 1 commissioners want to follow through on their plan to lease the house from the county. Attorneys for both the county and port have approved a lease agreement, and the port commission is expected to act on it at their meeting this evening (Thursday).

Commissioner Mike Backman said the trees should be removed before the port district begins using the house. The board received a bid a year ago from a tree removal firm for $7,500 to remove the trees and chip the branches.

Cothren suggested waiting to hire someone until the board hears from Port 1. If the port doesn't follow through, the county can tear down the house, and he'll fall the trees at no cost to the county, he said.


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