WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to explore whether the Corps could take over dredging of a hazardous channel in Charleston Marina. In late 2019, a man rescued three others whose boat had capsized in the channel after getting caught on a sandbar.
Merkley tackled the issue after a constituent at a public town hall in January raised the dangers of not dredging the channel, citing the sandbar incident. The immediate answer was that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) was not responsible for the area in the channel where the sandbar developed, and because of the cost, the Port of Coos Bay was not able to regularly dredge it. So Merkley worked with the Port and USACE to explore expanding federal authority to include the sandbar area. In just four months, the agency was able to coordinate with the Port of Coos Bay, and is now working with Merkley to seek funding to study whether the federal navigation channel could include that area.
“I hold an open town hall in every Oregon county every year for exactly this reason,” Merkley said. “I had read about Curtis Green’s heroics in rescuing the men from the capsized boat, but it wasn’t until Dana Mills highlighted it at my town hall that I learned that the sandbar was an ongoing danger without any ready solution. With that information, my team and I were able to work with the Port and the Corps find a solution—honoring Mr. Green’s brave act, and making sure the marina is safe for its users.
“As we all struggle through these particularly challenging times, this successful collaboration among Oregonians, local authorities, federal agencies, and elected officials is a testament to what we can accomplish when we work together,” Merkley continued. “I’ll continue doing everything I can to help folks cut through red tape, solve problems and grow opportunity in our communities.”
“My cousin and his crew nearly perished last year because the sandbar should have been dredged, but it was not. I relayed this tragic event to Senator Merkley at a town hall event in Coquille, and he promised to look in to it,” said Dana Mills, the constituent who raised the issue for Merkley.“Much to my surprise, he has come up with a solution. Even though he and I are on different sides of the aisle politically, he and his wonderful staff have responded to his constituents, and came through. On behalf of my family and the Charleston fishing fleet, I thank Senator Merkley.”
“The Oregon International Port of Coos Bay greatly appreciates the efforts of Senator Merkley to ensure that the Charleston Marina is adequately dredged to serve our commercial and recreational fishing fleets,” said John Burns, Chief Executive Officer of Port of Coos Bay. “The Charleston Marina is the third-largest commercial fishing hub in the State of Oregon, offering a full spectrum of services and amenities. Senator Merkley’s work with the USACE and Port staff is critical in ensuring the long-term viability of the marina for today’s fleet, and for future generations.”
“The Portland District prides itself on maintaining safe and reliable channels, harbors and waterways for the transportation of commerce, support to national security and recreation,” said Kevin Brice, deputy district engineer with USACE. “Our current authority only allows for the Corps to dredge within the federal navigation channel. While this shoaling currently sits outside of the existing federal channel, we are working alongside Senator Merkley to seek a request for funding to study the feasibility of removing the sandbar, and determine federal interest in potentially extending the federal navigation channel that would include the area of shoaling that has created these hazardous conditions.”
Once the USACE receives funding to launch the study, the process to seek authority to dredge the channel—including a feasibility study and environmental assessment required prior to dredging—could take more than two years. Ultimately, if the USACE is able to expand its authority to include the channel, it could save the Port of Coos Bay upward of $200,000 per dredge, would increase the frequency of dredging, and would improve safety. Additionally, year-round access with regular dredging would allow the Port to make upgrades and better utilize the area.
Since large gatherings have been canceled due to the spread of coronavirus, Merkley has been determined to continue to hold public town halls and hear directly from Oregonians—but remotely, through video conferencing and call-in options. This year, Merkley has held public town halls in 27 counties—four of them remote—and has nine more remote meetings scheduled in his annual tour of town halls for every Oregon county.