By Katie Wilson
ILWACO — Critical dredging work on the federally managed Baker Bay channel at the Port of Ilwaco began Aug. 11 and will continue through the rest of the month if the good weather holds.
But Port Manager Guy Glenn, Jr., says more work will need to done to ensure the channel functions effectively into the future. The channel leads from the Columbia River into the busy Ilwaco marina which houses the commercial and recreational fleets and two commercial fish processing plants. Keeping it clear and deep is crucial to Ilwaco’s fishing community and the port’s continued survival, say port leaders.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which maintains federal channels such as Baker Bay, dredged the channel for the first time in years last year as Coast Guard boats and larger fishing boats reported that they were scraping bottom in places along the channel. This year, once again, the ports of Ilwaco and Chinook were on the Corps’ final project list, landing about $2.4 million between the two of them for dredge work.
This spring, despite the recent dredging, Glenn said Baker Bay was already beginning to silt in again. The port hopes to land a commitment from the Corps to carry out a detailed sediment study of Baker Bay to figure out why it is filling in so quickly. In past decades, the port had not needed dredging so regularly.
Such a study is likely several years out, Guy said, as are investigations into alternatives for what the port does with the material it dredges from its marina each year. Though the channel is the Corps’ responsibility (and far beyond what the port’s own small dredge could handle), the marina is manageable. But, as the nearby on-land disposal site continues to fill up, Glenn said the port will be looking at other disposal options.
The Port of Willapa Harbor in Raymond has successfully implemented an in-water disposal method that redistributes dredged sediment back into the river systems. The Port of Ilwaco has discussed the possibility of using such a method in the marina in Ilwaco, too. In April, a coastal engineer with the private company, Coast and Harbor Engineering, said he had identified several areas where this method could be used, though a closer study of the area would be necessary before the port could proceed.
In the long term, the port also hopes to look into repairing or replacing deteriorating pile dikes along the Baker Bay channel. The poor state of the dikes could be factor in the port’s ongoing issues with the channel.
Also, the port is looking at re-aligning the channel overall in coming years and is talking with the Corps, fishermen and others. This project is only a discussion right now and there are no timelines or immediate plans attached to it, yet, Glenn said.