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Dredging project under way at Port of Gold Beach

Project aims to keep Gold Beach harbor open for recreational vessels, including jet boats, fishing guides and sport fishermen
From left: Army Corps of Engineers public affairs officer Tom Conning, Port of Gold Beach manager Bill McNair, Army Corps of Engineer Oregon Coast Project Manager Greg Speer and Curry County Commissioner Court Boice conducted a site visit last week to discuss the $5.3 million dredging project at the Port of Gold Beach.[Photo by Breeana Laughlin/The Pilot]

The Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing a massive dredging project at the entrance of the Rogue River aimed at keeping the Port of Gold Beach harbor open for recreational vessels, including jet boats, fishing guides and sport fishermen.

“The big picture for us is that we do this all over the Oregon Coast — at federal navigation channels — to maintain them for commerce and recreation,” said Tom Conning, Army Corps of Engineers public affairs officer.

Conning was joined by Army Corps of Engineer Oregon Coast Project Manager Greg Speer, Gold Beach Port Manager Bill McNair and County Commissioner Court Boice at a site visit last week to go over different aspects of the dredging project.

The dredging at Gold Beach typically happens annually using the Corps' dredge, Yaquina. But an excessive amount of sediment prevented that project from getting done for the past couple years.

“Every year we like to come in and dredge the entrance as far as we can get. But it's infilled so much that the captain wasn't comfortable coming in so we missed the last two years of dredging,” said Speer.

The Army Corps of Engineers decided to contract the project to American Construction. The $5.3 million contract is reducing the amount of gravel and other sediment at the entrance of the boat basin. It is also designed to remove gravel farther up the river.

Speer credited Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio for helping the Army Corps and local governments secure the funding for the project.

“The federal channel is what the Army Corps of Engineers normally maintains, but we also have 200,000 yards of gravel upstream of the federal channel,” said McNair. “If you just dredge the federal channel this year, then next year that gravel moves in. So, we are going up toward the bridge, beyond the channel and preemptively removing another 150,000 cubic yards and hauling it to the disposal site so next winter it won't wash into the channels.”

In the long-term the Army Corps will save money by spending a little bit of extra money so next year it won't have to return, he said.

About 184,000 cubic yards of material have already been dredged from the harbor, according to Speer. The plan is to remove about 340,000 cubic yards of sediment before the project is finished at the end of October.

The dredges suck sediment from the water in a manner that is similar to a vacuum cleaner, Speer said.

“They have a drag head that very is similar that raises up and lowers and we just drag them around and vacuum up the bottom until they fill up the hopper,” he said.

When the dredge is full the sediment is taken to an offshore disposal site about 3 miles out in the ocean. The Army Corps works with the EPA to find a permitted disposal site. Although, Speer added, the Army Corp of Engineers is working with the EPA and ODFW to find a disposal site that is farther out to make sure the sediment isn't impacting rockfish habitat.

It takes about an hour and a half for the dredge to fill up 1,000 cubic yards of gravel and other sediment, according to Speer.

“To put that in perspective, the big dump trucks that you see driving around the highways hold 10 cubic yards. So that's enough sediment to fill 100 of those, lined up end to end, in just over an hour,” Speer said.

McNair and Boice said the operation of the Gold Beach Harbor is important to the economy in Curry County.

McNair said the port employs about 70 people during the height of the season, including the mechanical staff, food service and tour boats.

The mouth of the river gets filled with about 50 to 100 recreational and commercial fishing boats each day. There is also a fleet of about a dozen small commercial boats that are doing a “live fishery” that catches and sells live bottom fish and sea urchins out of the Port of Gold Beach, McNair said.

The dredging operations are crucial to keep the river and boat basin operations running smoothly, Boice added.

“When it comes to the economy, if we don't have good access and we don't have good safety, then the word travels pretty fast. So we are really focused on maintaining and sustaining this,” Boice said.