Federal funds have been allocated for fiscal year 2020 to dredge the entire Rogue River boat basin access channel, announced Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio (D) Aug. 27.
DeFazio made that announcement during a townhall meeting in Gold Beach, before holding a second townhall meeting in Brookings the following morning.
Seventy-five people turned out for each of the sessions to hear him explain how Congress is working to address problems with local harbors and highways. DeFazio chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Before attending the initial townhall in Gold Beach, DeFazio took a tour of the Rogue River Harbor region to see first-hand the shoaling and gravel-bar movement that has been clogging the navigation channel, creating hazards in the bay and entrance to the boat basin. The Pilot first reported on the Rogue River shoaling Aug. 10.
DeFazio has been working on a bill for several years to dedicate the congressional Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to maintain the nation’s harbors. The money has already been collected, through a small tax on imported goods that pass through the nation’s ports — to the tune of $1.8 billion to $2 billion per year.
Unlocking the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Bill (HR 2440) could free up $34 billion over 10 years to maintain federal ports and harbors.
DeFazio reported that he was told in a meeting with President Trump, “Spend that money.”
While the bill has had unanimous support from the bipartisan transportation and infrastructure committee, it has yet to make it through Congress. The measure is scheduled for a vote by the House of Representatives this fall, and is expected to pass.
During the Brookings and Gold Beach townhalls, those attending had a myriad of questions for DeFazio and a panel that joined him at the presentations.
David Barnes of Gold Beach asked whether “besides the area near the mouth, if any dredging work could be done further upriver across from the old Riverview (restaurant), between there and Tidewater property” up Jerrys Flat Road. DeFazio answered it would be up to the State of Oregon. “The Feds only do federally designated navigation channels and that ends below the bridge,” he said.
“There are discussions between the port, the state and some gravel companies about getting the state to issue permits to those gravel companies to remove some of the gravel upstream and sell the gravel at a very low price. That would be one way to get rid of the gravel and put it to good use.”
Bill McNair, president of the Port of Gold Beach, asked about a project that had been tabled when congressional “earmarks” were eliminated. Earmarks are provisions inserted into discretionary spending appropriations bills since banned by Congress in 2011.
“The high-dock project is the second priority project for the Port of Gold Beach,” McNair said. “It is shovel-ready. The engineering is done. It is ready to be permitted. We still have the engineering and we have the matching funds in the port.”
The high dock is a large cement structure owned by the port that supports the buildings housing Jerry’s Rogue Jets, the Porthole Cafe, Fishermen’s Direct and other businesses at the port. Earlier, McNair told The Pilot that the structure, which was built in the 1960s, needs substantial repair or replacement. He said that at low tide, you could hear water running as it drains out of damaged areas of the structure.
During the Gold Beach meeting, another topic concerned the Port Orford buoy that has been out of commission for several years. That buoy, which measures weather, winds, currents and swells, is under the jurisdiction of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). DeFazio said NOAA is in “even worse shape (regarding budget allocations and unfunded projects) than the Coast Guard.”
At the Brookings townhall, a commercial fishing representative asked about the West Coast Groundfish Trawl Surveys that have been discontinued, in particular the impact on the voluntary buyback Initiative that allocates shares of the annual catch allotment amongst fishermen for the season.
“Surveys are essential for sustainable fisheries,” DeFazio said. He explained that even though the fishermen paid for the observers to implement the program, Congress did not set up a way to receive payment from the fishermen.
Recreational fisherman Barry Hartung of Brookings raised a safety issue stemming from a large shoal, or “knoll,” in the just-dredged channel outside Brookings Harbor. The shoal is at the end of the south jetty.
“The shoal is outside of the authorized federal channel,” said Kate Groth, Coastal Project Manager for the Army Corps of Engineers.
Other topics at the town halls ranged from climate change to presidential impeachment, stopping the Jordan Cove Pipeline project, DeFazio’s future re-election plans, a grievance with the Roseburg Veterans Medical Center, U.S. Forest Service fire management during the Chetco Bar Fire, and current federal immigration and foreign policies.