Plans to fill in a pool of water that prevents some vehicles from accessing Social Security Bar, a popular fishing spot on the Chetco River, have been delayed by state and federal agencies that believe the eddy could be sustainable salmon habitat.
The Brookings City Council discussed the popular gravel bar at a meeting last month, noting semantics revolving around whether the water-filled ditch is now part of the river, and rule changes that have muddied what councilors feel should be a simple project.
This week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers advised the city it would need a permit to fill in the pool with cobblestone, and that the earliest the work could be accomplished would likely be next summer.
The Corps has even gone so far as to advise the city to close the Social Security Bar accessway for the remainder of the steelhead fishing season so no one is injured and so contaminants from vehicles don’t enter the waterway.
The city owns an acre between North Bank Chetco Road and the river, including the driveway and the parking lot.
“We’re trying to improve the enjoyment of this popular fishing access, not shut it down,” said City Manager Gary Milliman. “For now, we have no choice but to just leave it alone.”
Social Security Bar is a popular local fishing access, used by bank fishermen, drift boat operators and guide service operators. Others go swimming, sunbathing, paddle boarding and kayaking.
Milliman said he went to Social Security bar Monday and trucks, boat trailers and one Jeep were parked on it. The Jeep, he said, crossed the water without getting its floorboards wet.
But the river depth – in the river and the pool – varies, and Milliman said there was not much water in either Monday.
The city council recently indicated it was interested in coordinating the work to place rock in the driveway and securing any needed permits. It will take 30 to 45 cubic yards of cobble to fill the pool so vehicles can again get across.
Councilors agreed it would be easiest to merely scrape cobble from the bar into the pool, as was done years ago. But state regulations now say rock can only be removed from the bottom third of the gravel bar, and any work must avoid certain plants in the area.
“The best material is two yards away,” said Council Brent Hodges in November. “This is the epitome of why government is what it is.”
If permitting is required, it might be less expensive to haul the rock in at this point, Milliman said.
“Any permit is required if it’s (the pool) essential salmon habitat (now),” said Parks Supervisor Tony Baron. “The Fish and Game people are on board with this; they’ve been talking about this for a year.”
The access to the bar used to be a boat ramp, and the river used to run on the north side of the channel. The river has changed course over the years – and “de-rocking” efforts have ended – so the bar has built up. The ramp now serves more as a driveway for river users.
“Backwater from the river accumulates in this driveway making it difficult for anyone not having a high-profile four-wheel drive vehicle to gain access to the bar,” Milliman said. “We have had several reports of vehicles becoming awash in the water at the base of the driveway.”
The Oregon South Coast Fishermen’s Association has agreed to contribute up to $750 toward an access improvement project, and volunteers have stepped forward to help with the project, Baron said.
The Corps also plans to talk with the National Marine Fishing Service concerning the effects of the project on endangered species in the area.
“We’re not sure what conditions of approval will be applied or how this will affect the cost of doing the work,” Baron said.