Prepare for Rising Seaby Staff
Oregon Public Broadcasting, July 19, 2011
It would be big news and a catastrophe if Long Beach lost its entire beach, the boardwalk and the first block or so of the business district to coastal erosion. Couldn't ever happen, you say? Thirty miles away, it did happen in the winter of 2009-10.
The worldwide issue of losing beaches to the rising and increasingly violent ocean may seem like someone else's problem, but in fact it is starting to hit close to home.
This is of more than hypothetical interest here. Thankfully, as yet we do not have homes tumbling into the surf in Seaview or Ocean Park. But some nearby neighbors are in the process of losing what little remains of their town.
After a brief intermission, the ocean continues to gnaw away at the north Pacific County community of North Cove with rapacious speed. During the winter before last, about another 640 feet were lost at the town's Warrenton Cannery Road -- named for the Oregon-based commercial razor clam business that once operated there.
This is only the latest loss in a chain of events stretching back decades at that location. The site of Willapa Bay's historic lighthouse now lies thousands of feet offshore, a result of decades of erosion that were set off by the construction of Columbia River dams and jetties in the early decades of the 20th century.
All this might only be a pathetic story from an isolated Washington village, were it not for the fact that a similar potential exists up and down the coast at the mouth of the Columbia. A long-term deficit in the quantity of sediment coming down the river, made worse by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' policy of disposing of many dredge spoils in the deep ocean where they are lost to nature's beach-building system, means that Washington's aptly named Washaway Beach could someday apply to a wide swath of expensive seashore real estate.
Ocean currents mean that Columbia River sediments nourish beaches from Tillamook Head to Point Grenville on the Olympic Peninsula. The nation is overdue for a fundamental policy change that treats dredged materials as the precious asset they are -- tomorrow's beaches, not today's garbage. Experiments at eroding Benson Beach in Cape Disappointment State Park are starting to show the way.
It also is time to more actively plan for how our children and grandchildren will live along the Pacific Northwest shoreline a generation or two from now. It is none too soon to begin thinking about where to relocate highways. At Washaway Beach, Washington State Route 105 should have been moved inland a dozen years ago. Instead, many millions were spent to keep it where the ocean will soon pinch it off against a steep hillside.
We are at the outset of an era of shoreline change, some of which may be uncomfortably rapid. Planning in advance will mitigate the damage.
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