Posted on September 13, 2022
A giant bucket – the size of a 1970s Volkswagen bus – swings through the air after it gobbles up 20 cubic yards of gravel blocking (shoaling-in) access to parts of the Port of Gold Beach, Ore. The small community on the southern coast, where the Rogue River meets the Pacific Ocean, doesn’t have much, but it has a port that sees upwards of 35,000 visitors per year for jet boat tours and averages 75-100 fishing boats a day, according to port officials.
Without consistent dredging by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), the port could lose out on this recreation activity, according to Bill McNair, Port of Gold Beach president.
“If it’s not maintained at least every five years, ingress, egress out of the Port of Gold Beach won’t occur,” said McNair. “Recreationally and with a small commercial component, also, it’s important to the small community of about 2,500 people. It’s important what the Army Corps does and the federal funding for that is important to maintain a certain percentage of money out of the Harbor Maintenance Fund to go into this.”
Sediment and rock have tumbled down the Rogue and stacked up here since the last major dredging event in 2018, constraining the port area and boat access.
Greg Speer, Oregon Coast project manager, recognizes that maintaining channel access is critical for several reasons. For instance, Gold Beach is a harbor of safe refuge that offers vessels shelter from heavy seas. And the U.S. Coast Guard operates a seasonal station here to ensure the safe navigation of the channel and responds to offshore emergencies.
“We have eight breaking bars on this coast, which are very hazardous and dangerous, and by dredging we keep those open and keep them safe for the community,” said Speer. “With all the recreational fishing—and some ports have commercial fishing—it keeps the channel open so that you attract the tourists and the commercial fishermen to come in and spend their money here in the communities.”
Curry County has been actively assisting in seeking dredging and funding for the work due to the community’s reliance on local tourism and recreation at this harbor, which sees more than 4,500 recreation-related bar crossings each year. That translates to about $4 million annually, according to Speer.
“The gravel that comes down the Rogue Basin and from the tributaries every year, it is piled up here and it’s really detrimental to our fishing, our economy,” said Court Boice, Curry County commissioner. “To come in here now and take out 300,000 [cubic yards] of gravel in a two- or three-month period, is just gigantic. We really believe this is going to buy us several years.”
The Corps’ contractor is about halfway finished with the project and has removed roughly 184,000 cubic yards of sediment from the entrance and the boat basin access. That’s enough to fill almost 20,000 large dump trucks.
Rogue River dredging at Gold Beach usually occurs on an annual basis for the entrance channel; however, the Corps’ hopper dredge Yaquina hasn’t been able to dredge for a few years. Excessive infill of sediment at the entrance has prevented safe access for this large vessel. This year, Corps officials awarded American Construction a $5.3 million contract to dredge this area.