Commissioners cover ferry funding, erosion, shoreline program


January 12, 2023

Wahkiakum County commissioners signed letters to state legislators requesting increased funding for the county ferry Oscar B. and discussed other issues when they met Tuesday.

The letters follow up meetings with Rep. Fey, chair of the House Transportation Committee, and District 19 Senator Jeff Wilson. Commissioners requested a change to state statutes establishing the state's subsidy of ferry operations. The letters included spreadsheets showing that the current 80 percent subsidy doesn't cover all costs, forcing the county to use money intended for county roads to cover ferry costs.

According to the spreadsheets, the ferry operation deficits were $334,752.24 in 2020, $179,839.66 in 2021, and $131,783.40 in 2022.

The letters also emphasize that the ferry not only serves local travelers, but it is also called into full time service when there are adverse impacts on state highways. For example, it is expected the ferry will run full time later this year when the Lewis and Clark Bridge in Longview is closed for expansion joint replacement.

Recent storms and high water on the Columbia have resulted in severe erosion of beaches along Puget Island's East Sunny Sands Road, resident Mike Beutler reported. He asked the board what steps are being taken to address the situation.

The high water has carried away much of the dredged sand deposited 2.5 years ago, he said, and one resident has lost trees to the erosion. The erosion is especially bad in areas subject to pile dike eddies.

Commissioner Dan Cothren said he would contact the US Army Corps of Engineers about the situation.

"The key is volume [of sand needing to be dredged from the shipping channel]," Cothren said, adding that he would contact key staff in the Corps office. "We need to have some discussion."

Cothren added that other areas need attention. The river is eroding the shorelines along North Welcome Slough and Ostervold roads on Puget Island; and county agencies have been pressing the Corps for dredging of blocked channels in Grays Bay to reduce flooding in the Grays River Valley.

The board and audience briefly discussed who would serve as administrator of the county's Shoreline Master Program. The county submitted a proposed update to the state Department of Ecology a few years ago and is awaiting DOE comment and/or approval for the program.

Commissioner Cothren said commission members have received several comments from the public expressing concern about the program's impact on property owners.

Commissioner Gene Strong suggested the board consider requesting proposals from firms to handle the work.

Public Works Director Chuck Beyer commented that the duty has been part of the job description of public works staff for over 30 years; it's now a responsibility of the permit coordinator/building inspector.

"The job has grown," Strong commented.

Chuck Hendrickson, a member of the County Real Property Rights Committee which drafted the proposed program update, commented that the administrator's scope of work isn't yet clear because DOE hasn't finished its review of the program.

"My thought is that the folks are represented and they're happy," Cothren said. "I don't want us to be in the middle."

Commission Chair Lee Tischer suggested that because the county's proposed update didn't follow the DOE's recommended format, there may be a lot of negotiation to come.

"We wrote it so the shoreline administrator had as much discretion as possible," Hendrickson said.


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