Investing in the Present and Future
The Daily Astorian, January 21, 2010
The jetties are the maritime gateway to the Columbia
We live in an age of 100-year storms, the kinds of epoch convulsions of sky and sea that more optimistic times regarded as once-in-a-century events. Coastal residents have learned to batten everything down that we want to ever see again, and the same caution must be applied to key public assets like the Columbia River jetties.
That's why it is news worth celebrating that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has started the arduous process of lining up all the political, financial, environmental and technical hurdles that lead to rebuilding the jetties for the 21st century.
Even here at the mouth of the Columbia where they are by far the largest manmade structures, the jetties are something of a mystery to many people. Why the heck go to the expense of dumping long piles of enormous rocks far out into the ocean? There probably are some who imagine they are just for fishermen and sightseers.
It would be difficult to overstate the importance of jetties to the navigability of the lower Columbia and the economy of the Pacific Northwest. Without the jetties, the mouth of the Columbia would be only 20 feet deep and impassable for all or most modern ocean-going ships. Only a century ago, sailors were sometimes trapped inside or outside the river estuary for weeks at a time while waiting for rough bar conditions to abate. It was the jetties, coupled with routine maintenance dredging, that turned the Columbia from a horror story that mariners shuddered over into the relatively straightforward transportation corridor it is today.
Jetties at the mouths of tidal rivers perform several related functions. They serve as a gigantic hose nozzle, helping the river itself scour out its channel. They concentrate a river's outflow into one definite channel that can be more easily maintained. They protect that channel from littoral drift, the sands that flow along the beach carried by the tides and waves.
From 2005 to 2007, the corps and private contractors patched the North and South jetties, placing 226,000 tons of rock at a cost of about $18 million. The new project, which could start in a couple years and take 20 years to complete, will dwarf these repairs.
Requiring maybe a quarter of a billion dollars, the work envisions placing 364,000 tons of rock on the North Jetty at Cape Disappointment and 750,000 tons at the South Jetty that stretches out from Fort Stevens. Considerable work is also needed to jetty "A" at U.S. Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment. (Up to the present, 3.4 million tons of rock have gone into North Jetty and 8.8 million tons into South Jetty.)
This is a lot of money but there ultimately is no choice. The jetties are the maritime gateway to the Columbia. Tens of thousands of jobs rely on keeping the river open to commerce. Without these renovations, the cataclysmic storms sweeping across the Pacific inevitably will punch a hole in a jetty, unloosing millions of pounds of sediments and blocking the navigation channel.
At the same time we recognize this work as being essential, this isn't a blank check. The corps must minimize adverse impacts from mining, transporting and placing the rock. Congress should also make sure lower Columbia communities see direct economic benefits from the project, through local purchasing and employment. Just as projects like Hoover Dam put unemployed people to work in the Great Depression, now is a perfect time to begin this work.
Columbia jetties are a wise investment in our region's future and in today's economic recovery.
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs