Part 2 of 2 parts

COLUMBIA ESTUARY - A mountain rose on Ken Leahy's Bradwood property earlier this month.

More than 275,000 cubic yards of coarse sand dredged from the Columbia River shipping channel that would have been dumped back in the river now have a future as concrete.

About 30 miles to the west, Benson Beach is disappearing. Its sands are swept away by pulling ocean waves. But the anemic beach received a shot in the arm in July when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pumped 40,000 cubic yards of dredged sand over the north jetty protecting the Columbia River's mouth.

These are two recent examples of how dredged materials from the Columbia River have been put to beneficial use. Elsewhere in the country, dredged materials are used to stop acid runoff from abandoned coal mines, cover landfills, create wetlands and restore fish habitat.

The current projects hardly make a dent in the 11 million cubic yards the Corps has to remove from the shipping channel annually to maintain its 40-foot depth. But they've motivated people to take a fresh look at how dredge materials are disposed of on the Columbia River.

Four sites  Larry Potter isn't in his office at the Oregon Division of State Lands much. Potter, who was instrumental in orchestrating the successful beneficial use at the Bradwood site, is out along the Columbia River, looking for more places to put sand upland. Ideal sites have the capacity to handle large volumes of dredged material and have rail or barge access to move the sand to market.

"I said, 'OK, (Bradwood) is Site 1. What I'd like to do is find another place that you guys need to dredge like this and let me see if I can locate another upland site nearby,'" he said. "You can't let it drop dead now."

Potter has at least four other sites in mind between Astoria and St. Helens. These locations have been used before and are just about empty. One can hold close to 2 million cubic yards of sand, he said.


The Corps has included two ecosystem restoration features that could eat up more than 9 million cubic yards of dredged materials and create shallow-water habitat for endangered salmon species in its most recent feasibility study of deepening the Columbia River shipping channel to 43 feet.

One at Lois Island, southeast of Tongue Point, would use at least 4 million cubic yards of dredged material from the channel deepening project. The second Corps site, a system of pile dikes designed to counter erosion on a stretch of river between Miller Sands spit and Pillar Rock, could take materials from channel deepening and maintenance dredging.

"It's channel deepening plus ecosystem restoration," said Robert Willis, chief of the Corps' Environmental Resources Branch. "We wanted to make sure that when this project was implemented, that it would not only not have any harm, but it would also have a positive effect."

Available to public

Some sites along the Columbia River use dredged materials on a reduced scale.

In Skamokowa, at the small Port of Wahkiakum County No. 2, contractors and homeowners load their pickups with Columbia River sand for building projects, small and large.

Port manager Steve McClain said that since Skamokowa Vista Park opened 21 years ago, the Corps has placed 200,000 to 300,000 cubic yards of sand there on three or four occasions. Some of that is used to restore the park's riverfront beach. McClain said the port sells another 12,000 to 15,000 yards a year. In addition to independent contractors, buyers include a concrete plant in Cathlamet; an asphalt plant in Naselle; and a company that makes concrete bird baths on the Long Beach Peninsula.

"We get extra revenue; local contractors get good sand without having to haul it," McClain said. "The benefit, in my view, floats all the way down to the consumer."

Sebastian Deegans, manager of planning and development for the marine department at Port of Portland, said selling sand can be a substantial lift to small ports with tight budgets. The sand creates revenue for states as well. Oregon and Washington collect a royalty on the sale of sand from the Columbia River. The Oregon Common Schools Fund gets 58 cents for every yard sold in the state.

Rewarding work

The Benson Beach project was expensive, and the Corps is mandated to find the least-cost alternative to dispose of dredged materials. Without support from state and local governments and $200,000 from Congress, the pilot project this summer wouldn't have happened.

"It was really rewarding to actually be able to see the work done at Benson Beach," Doris McKillip said. McKillip is in charge of dredging at the Columbia River mouth. But to repeat that success, "we have to come up with a design to make it more cost-effective," she said.

Tom Byler, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber's water policy adviser, said he hopes a new group of government, industry and environmental experts studying Columbia River dredge disposal issues looks at ways to reduce the cost of bene ficial use projects.

The Lower Columbia Solutions Groups met for the first time in July. Group member Peter Huhtala, president of Columbia Riverkeeper, said the group has helped build trust among Columbia River stakeholders.

"Many of us had been in other situations where we had been vehemently opposed to each other's points of view," he said.

Byler said he hopes that through cooperation and planning, more beneficial uses can be achieved, without violating the Corps' least-cost mandate.

"If it's set up right ... there may be some re-handling locations, where the Corps could dump materials in the water, that could then be distributed to upland sites where the Corps wouldn't necessarily be involved," Byler said. "Ideally, what I'd like to see happen on the Columbia River is to get the Corps and the ports and local governments thinking similarly and looking for opportunities like Bradwood."

Looking for markets

Another task set before the solutions group is finding markets for the dredged material taken from the river.

Clean, dredged sand is used for the production of mortar, concrete and as backfill. In Pennsylvania, dredged materials are mixed with coal ash to fill abandoned mines and stop acid runoff. The stuff is used in golf course construction and other agricultural and engineering applications.

Deegans, at the Port of Portland, said the market is growing. In 1992, a little more than 300,000 yards of Columbia River sand were sold, he said. By 1998, that number had reached 1.5 million cubic yards.

"And it's increased dramatically in the last several years, as land-side options for sand and aggregate have shrunk," Deegans said. Quarried rock and sand - "land-side options" - are no longer the plentiful, cost-effective resources they once were.

He said the biggest obstacle to selling large quantities of sand is the high cost of transporting it. There are potential customers for Columbia River sand as far away as San Francisco and even Japan, Deegans said.

For more information on beneficial use of dredged materials, visit

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