PORT OF ILWACO - Bob Dingethal, Southwest Washington director for U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell's office, discussed local concerns with Port of Ilwaco commissioners Monday.

He said Cantwell's biggest concern is sustaining the fishing industry locally.

"She's concerned about the jobs and the tourism the industry brings to the area," he said. "She said it looks good for funding for dredging and dock repair, but if we don't keep focused, we may lose because of executive cutbacks. Maria's goal is to take a clear understanding of the impact of the cutbacks to Washington. They're coming fast and furious and costs are going up."

He said Cantwell "loves the area and is doing a lot for local historical areas."

Commissioner Dick Siefert told Dingethal he had taken U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel on a boat trip to sample channel depths. "We went aground in the middle of the channel," he said. "It's four feet deep. We have to dredge. It's bad." Siefert said the silting of the Ilwaco channel dates back to the construction of the North and South jetties in 1915, which diverted the flow of the river. "We need to clear it out so the natural flow will return," he said. "We've lost about 22 feet of depth."

Siefert said the corps used to dredge every five years. "It should be every two years," he said. "Something needs to be done or we'll lose Baker Bay completely. The Port of Chinook has the same problem. If it could be flushed out we could go back to dredging every five years." A meeting is scheduled with the corps Aug. 15 to discuss the dredging situation.

At this point, large fishing boats can't enter the port to unload at Jessie's Ilwaco Fish Co. "The big fishing boats draw 12- to 14-feet," Siefert said. Jessie's will be out of business if dredging isn't done. We need a lot of assistance to get it cleaned out." He said dredging should have been done last fall but funding wasn't available. "Hurricane Katrina took it all," he said.

Cathy Russ, executive director of the Pacific County Economic Development Council, told Dingethal dredging issues also impact north Pacific County cities, right down to the school districts.

Port Manager Mack Funk said a Water Resources Development Act bill is now being debated in Congress. "If it passes, it would help Pacific and Wahkiakum counties," he said.

Commissioners approved giving Funk the authority to request grant funding from the Community Economic Revitalization Board for repairing West Main and C and D floats at the port. "We can capitalize on the Jessie's expansion project," he said, adding that he's looking into obtaining used dock materials from Seattle docks that are being rebuilt.

"We have to start someplace," Commission Chairman Frank Unfred said.

Port commissioners approved hiring Century West Engineering to provide a layout plan for the port's airport. Funk said the port considered three firms for the contract and he recommended Century West of Portland and Ellensburg. He said grant funds will pay for the work.

Also during the meeting, Funk said Mark Chung with AEG of Olympia will be drilling 10 test holes this week to determine the extent, if any, of contamination from underground tanks on port property near Sea Breeze Charters. The tanks are about 30 years old.

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