ILWACO — The Ilwaco Channel will benefit from more than $1 million in federal funding for dredging and pile dike improvements over the coming year.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has released its 2019 appropriations plan, including $1.239 million in funding for Ilwaco Channel maintenance dredging and completion of an engineering report on the Ilwaco Channel pile dikes.
“Funding for 2019 should be adequate to address the priority areas of our Ilwaco entrance channel,” said Port Manager Guy Glenn Jr. said.
“What is encouraging is receiving funding for the completion of the engineering report for the pile dikes located at the entrance of our Ilwaco channel,” Glenn added. Addressing the need for better pile dikes has been one of Glenn’s top priorities for several years.
Pile dikes — also known as “wing dams” — are structures used to help maintain navigation channels by directing river flow toward the main channel. Constructed in stages from 1885 to 1969, the corps has 233 pile dikes in the 145 miles between the mouth of the Columbia River and Bonneville Dam, according to the USACE figures. The pile dikes along the Ilwaco Channel were constructed decades ago but continue to play a crucial role today, Glenn explained.
“Restoring the function of these pile dikes should ultimately lead to a more stable and reliable channel, which in turn will reduce the pressure and costs to dredge annually,” Glenn said.
Deterioration of the pile dikes has resulted in a loss of their intended function, creating instability and excess siltation in the channel, leading to a need for more frequent maintenance dredging and related costs. Investing to restore the functionality of these passive navigation structures will ultimately reduce channel-maintenance costs and provide more reliability for channel users, according to Glenn. The engineering report is considered an important step in this process.
“A long-term investment to restore the function of the failing pile dikes, passive structures constructed in the late 1930s at the entrance of our channel, should ultimately reduce the need for annual channel maintenance costs and provide long-term reliable water access to support local jobs and our coastal communities,” Glenn said.
The Port of Chinook, managed under an interlocal agreement with the Port of Ilwaco, wasn’t as fortunate in this year’s corps’ planning.
“We did not receive funding for channel maintenance in Chinook,” Glenn said. “The conditions in the Chinook channel are currently manageable and will have to hold up until at least August/September 2020.”
Historically, the Chinook channel hasn’t been maintained as frequently as Ilwaco’s channel.
“There are not any major problems with the Chinook Channel at the current time, however these conditions may or may not hold up over the next year or so,” Glenn said.
“If we had secured funding for work next year it would have been done in August or September of 2019,” he said. “We will continue to pursue funding for channel maintenance for the same time period in 2020.”
Strong port support
Overall, the ports of Ilwaco and Chinook have received more than $10.5 million combined in federal funds for channel maintenance since 2014.
Since 2013, Ilwaco has secured $9,058,000 in federal funds for the work while Chinook — dredged in 2014, 2015 and 2017 — has netted $3,255,000 over the same period.
“Sens. Murray and Cantwell, and Congresswoman Herrera-Beutler all understand the importance of our two ports to the region,” Glenn said. “Their ongoing support in D.C. continues to demonstrate their commitment to our coastal community and jobs related to commercial and recreational fishing.”
Funding for the maintenance dredging comes from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, a program established in 1986 by Congress to fund dredging and jetty repairs at coastal navigation projects throughout the U.S. The trust fund is supported by the Harbor Maintenance Tax, which is levied on the value of imported goods and raises approximately $1.5 billion annually. Recent legislation ensures small ports like Ilwaco and Chinook collectively receive 10 percent of expenditures from the fund. This “set aside” was temporarily passed in 2014 and made permanent in 2016.
Since January 2016, both ports have operated under an interlocal agreement with unified management as an effort to promote the most cost-effective and efficient use of public resources, personnel and expertise — with the Port of Ilwaco managing the Port of Chinook, which continues to have its own locally elected board of commissioners.
It didn’t come as a total surprise that one port received funding and not the other. The last time Ilwaco didn’t receive federal funds for channel maintenance dredging was in 2013, and there are no guarantees year to year.
“The process to receive federal funding for channel maintenance is extremely competitive,” Glenn said. “Funding is limited and the Corps of Engineers has to prioritize projects for small ports nationwide."