Staff from the offices of Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley met with local Depoe Bay City Councilors, state legislators, the local Depoe Bay fishing fleet and various and sundry other citizens who are alarmed that Depoe Bay charter fishing and other boats can re-fuel only at high tides…roughly twice in 24 hours so that boats don’t run aground near the fuel docks.
The problem is the silt running down off the mountains behind Depoe Bay, coming down South Depoe Creek and filling up Depoe Bay Harbor. Normally Depoe Bay gets the U.S. Corps of Engineers to dredge the bay every five years. But it filled up early and on top of that they didn’t get dredge funds from the federal government on this fifth year. It was said that Depoe Bay is the only bay on the coast that was told “not this year.” So for the time being there will be no no fueling of boats from the fuel docks except at two quite variable times of the day and night – high tides have their own schedule.
Charter fishing boat operators and others said Depoe Bay contributes quite substantially to the Central Coast tourism industry revenues but it’s “disadvantaged” in the eyes of the Corps of Engineers because a major criteria demonstrating a need for dredging is indexed for “ship tonnage.” Not just port operations revenue. Big ships can’t get into Depoe Bay, nor would they want to – yet the harbor helps to generate considerable tourism room tax revenues. Further complicating things is the fact that Depoe Bay is legally barred from levying a property tax to raise funds to operate and maintain the port. And there appears to be little likelihood that a property tax would ever be implemented – “chances between zero and zero” according to some townspeople.
Raising hotel/motel room taxes was also brought up but revenues from such a source wouldn’t come close to raising the nearly one million dollars required to dredge the harbor every five years.
Office staff from U.S. Senators Wyden and Merkley, along with state Senator Arnie Roblan and state Representative David Gomberg took notes and engaged in the discussions but in the end no promises could be made. They were told that they’ll need 30 to 45 days to learn how soon the bay might be dredged. They said it could be next spring before a federally-hired dredge shows up and cleans out the harbor.
In the meantime there could be some interest in exploring trapping the bay-filling silt upstream of the harbor by doing in-stream annual silt removal rather than letting it pile up in five year intervals in the bay. We’ll see where that idea goes.
Senator Merkley issued this statement from Washington DC at the end of the Depoe Bay meeting:
Small ports are critical to Oregon’s coastal economy, and in particular, the Port of Depoe Bay is crucial to the Depoe Bay economy. It’s frustrating that the port has not been dredged, and all the more reason I appreciate everyone coming together to explore options to ensure that this port continues to thrive and support the community.
I’ve heard from Oregon’s coastal communities over the years about how important dredging is to folks’ livelihoods. Using my seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, I have won increases in Army Corps of Engineers funding for small ports dredging and maintenance. I have also secured increases to the portion of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund that goes to small ports, and advocated for coastal infrastructure.
I am disappointed that the Port of Depoe Bay has not been dredged despite these efforts. My office is dedicated to working with community leaders to find a solution to the immediate dredging issue, and to ensuring this critical maintenance of all of Oregon’s small ports is adequately funded.
Thanks to the community and local leadership for their commitment to finding a solution to this issue. I will continue to do everything I can to be a strong federal partner to Depoe Bay and all of Oregon’s coastal communities.