Commissioners, Corps review Gray's Bay shoaling
May 12, 2022
It likely will take an act of Congress to get the US Army Corps of Engineers to dredge sediment in Gray's Bay.
Residents of the Grays River and Deep River valleys have been pressing the Corps for years to clear sediment from the rivers' channels across the bay. They contend that Corps activities to manage the Columbia River shipping channel have plugged the tributary channels' outlets, and this has resulted in increasingly adverse flooding in the valleys.
In discussion Tuesday sponsored by the county board of commissioners, Corps officials reviewed the programs they could offer to address the situation and emphasized that their authority to do projects is directed by the US Congress.
"Our hope is to get dredging so these waters can flow out and ease the back up," said commission Chair Gene Strong, who has lived in the Grays River Valley for over 40 years.
In that time, Strong said, he has seen flooding increase in depth and duration. A volunteer fire fighter, he said that the Grays River Fire Department had to move its Grays River station because flood depth had increased from inches to as much as four feet. The flooding also impacts transportation; it blocks roads and isolates people for days, and the siltation inhibits access to water based business.
The Corps, Strong said, changed Gray's Bay drainage by moving the shipping channel closer to the Oregon shore and depositing spoils on a man made island that blocked the tributaries' outlets.
Speakers from the Corps's Portland division indicated that they have limits on what they can do. While there may be authorities to dredge channels in the Gray's and Deep rivers, projects are prioritized based on cost/benefit analysis.
Also, there needs to be a local partner to share costs, 50 percent of a feasibility study and 35 percent of actual work, commented Valerie Ringold, Portland district planning chief.
After considerable discussion, commissioners decided to seek help from members of Congress who could meet with the Corps and work on appropriations and authorizations for the agency.
"Congressional folks, you know where the funding will be," Commissioner Dan Cothren commented to the regional representatives of Senator Patty Murray and Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler who attended the meeting (held on Zoom).