There are countless reasons to celebrate Oregon’s coastal ports, but a main one is the vital role they play in the economies of our coastal communities. Maintaining this port infrastructure through dredging is critically important to the regional economy and to the safety of commercial and recreational users.
We’re here today because — as of this past weekend — maintenance dredging is now under way on the Oregon coast, starting with the Siuslaw Channel off of Florence. And we’re here to celebrate that fact thanks to the rather unique way we have in Oregon of meeting our challenges.
Just under a year ago we were facing a very different situation. The 2013 federal budget zeroed dredging funds for Oregon’s coastal ports, except the Port of Coos Bay and Yaquina Bay. This funding crisis was especially serious for Port Orford, which had not been dredged since 2010 and was so filled with sediment that boats could only safely enter and exit the port during calm conditions and moderate tides.
The lack of federal funding was a serious issue for other small coastal ports. Channel entrances to ports typically need annual removal of sand and silt; otherwise, they quickly deteriorate and become dangerous to navigate, affecting the commercial shipping, fishing, and recreational boating that coastal economies depend upon.
Given these circumstances, people across the state started working together to find funding, secure authorizations, and figure out how to keep these ports open for business. At the federal, state, and local levels, we found common ground and common purpose, and the result is a formal agreement that makes state funding possible for this vitally important dredging work, starting with the ports of Siuslaw, Umpqua, and Port Orford, and continuing in 2014 at other Oregon coastal ports.
We’re here today to formalize this partnership and really celebrate the cooperation and collaboration that has made such a huge difference in this project.
I’d like to acknowledge some of the many people and groups involved, starting with Oregon coastal ports, which are forming a coalition through the Oregon Solutions Network and working together on solutions to the federal funding shortfall for maintenance dredge work.
Thanks to the South Coast Regional Solutions committee, chaired by Reedsport Mayor Keith Tymchuk, for recognizing and voicing South Coast dredging needs as a Regional Priority.
Oregon’s Legislative Coastal Caucus provided welcome leadership by stepping up this past session to authorize use of the State’s Marine Navigation Funding for Corps-led dredging work and to identify an additional $3 million in funding for dredging needs in South Coast ports.
Thanks to Congressman DeFazio for hosting the January meeting in Brookings that kicked off the conversation to explore local, short-term solutions to pay for small port dredging. The Congressman and Senators Wyden and Merkley have continued working at the federal level to find long-term solutions for small port dredging. Because of their leadership, both the Senate and House versions of the Water Resources Development Acts contain language to set aside funds to dredge small ports. These bills are working their way through Congress now.
Finally I’d like to thank Col. John Eisenhauer and the staff at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Portland District office. This team moved the state sponsorship agreement through the national Corps office and Congress, securing the authorization to transfer state funds to the Corps for dredge work. We have every confidence in their work in Oregon coastal ports, and we are appreciative of their continued work on state and federal permit re-authorizations for dredging navigation channels for all Oregon ports despite ongoing funding uncertainty.
I’d like to invite a few others up to speak, but I’ll close by saying that even as we deal with serious, sometimes contentious, issues, we remain mindful that we are all Oregonians. Remaining true to that spirit by working across the aisle and across jurisdictions has helped us find solutions to tough problems. I’m proud of the reputation we’ve earned as a place where we’re able to work together and get things done, and I’m very pleased we’re already seeing results on this particular project.