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County, Corps ready to start dredging permit process

Posted on August 15, 2015

Wahkiakum County officials and the US Army Corps of Engineers moved closer Tuesday to starting a project to place Columbia River Dredge spoils on Puget Island‘s East Sunny Sands eroding beach.

Corps representative Karla Ellis, chief of the waterway maintenance division, reported the Corps solicitors had completed the memorandum of agreement for the county and Corps, and once it was signed, the parties could proceed with placing sand on the shoreline.

Ellis said it will be the county’s responsibility to obtain the environmental permits. She suggested the county hire a consultant with experience in the process.

The county should be able to use permits and studies created in another permitting process five years ago as a starting point, Ellis said. This will save on costs. She will also put together a permitting packet so they know what needs to be addressed.

Submitting one consolidated packet will speed up the process, Ellis said.

Public Works Director Pete Ringen commented that the environmental laws involved in the permitting are complicated. Using a consultant would be preferable to using county staff to handle the permitting.

“It really takes somebody who’s up to speed on these issues to put it together,” he said. “On a really big project, it should be somebody who has done it professionally.”

Ringen said the county has a variety of consultants on its list of contractors.

Commissioners said they envisage the project involving property from the ferry landing up river to Netrack Slough. Members of the audience had questions about the scope and design, but Ellis said the consultant would create that design, which should focus on accommodating the maximum volume possible.

Ellis said it won’t be possible to get the project going this year because of the permitting process. It should be possible next year, she said.

Commissioner Mike Backman said he wanted to make sure the permit would last a long time so that everyone didn’t have to go through the permitting process again. Ellis suggested going for a 10-year permit.

There are several other issues yet to address.

The county’s representatives will have to contact all property owners to obtain right-of-entry permits so that the dredging contractor can work in front of the land owners’ homes.

Ringen said he had learned the Corps is changing the format for the permits, and Ellis said she is pressing the solicitors to obtain the updated format for the county.

In the previous project one property owner refused to give right of entry, and that limited the scope of the project.

Cothren said he didn’t want that to happen again and see some people deprived of sand.

“There’s probably some drastic means this board will have to do,” he said, if the right of entry isn’t unanimous.

The county has proposed that owners of property inside the Puget Island Flood Control Zones District, which includes the eroding area, to levy a tax on their property to raise funds to cover expenses for obtaining permits for the project.

Officials and members of the public expressed long-held anger at having to deal with erosion issues caused by the shipping industry, which provides no compensation.

“What really get me, we didn’t create anything (damaging),” Cothren said. “The upriver ports, they made the channel deeper for themselves. There’s a cost to our county, and they do it to us.”

Ellis responded that she had heard similar comments for the 12 years she has worked on the Columbia.

“I’ve seen the issues,” she said, adding, My role is to be a liaison to find the best way to move forward,” she said.

Cothren commented that no one wants to see sand placed inside the dike, as requested by the upriver ports as part of their channel deepening project before sand is placed along the beach to protect people’s homes.

“We’re going to be butting heads,” Cothren said. “You’ll have a road block with this board.”

“I understand,” Ellis said. “I’m trying to demonstrate that we’re working in good faith. I know this is a very conflicted issue.”

Ellis reported that the Corps has embarked on a massive study of the pile dikes. The structures need maintenance, and study should determine priorities.

Island residents suggested some could be removed, for they create eddies that make erosion worse.

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