Port of Ilwaco officials pitch issues in Washington, D.C.

Port of Ilwaco commissioner Jim Stiebritz and port manager Mack Funk just returned from a trip to the nation's capital where they worked to educate officials about local issues. Above, Stiebritz visits with Washington's senior senator, Democrat Patty Murray. MACK FUNK photo

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Port of Ilwaco Commissioner Jim Stiebritz and port manager Mack Funk traveled to Washington, D.C., Feb. 22 as members of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association (PNWA) to request funding for channel dredging for shallow-draft ports including Ilwaco and Chinook.

Other issues of local interest include placing dredged materials on Benson Beach, replacing Port of Ilwaco docks, removing operating restrictions on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredges Essayons and Yaquina, rebuilding the jetties, mitigating the impacts of groundfish restrictions on coastal fishing communities and changing the rule to reallocate the Pacific sardine quota earlier in the season (Aug. 1).

The PNWA is an organization that was formed 69 years ago to advocate for navigation and resource issues in the region. The Port of Ilwaco re-joined PNWA in 2002 after a long absence. "PNWA helped the Port of Ilwaco 20 years ago when the port was able to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deepen the 3-mile entrance channel into Ilwaco to a depth of 16 feet," Stiebritz said. "We need PNWA's help to more effectively advocate for Ilwaco and Pacific County."

Funk said about 50 members of PNWA traveled to D.C. including 38 public port officials from Idaho, Oregon and Washington; a power official; representatives from the Columbia River Pilots and Columbia River Bar Pilots; the Pacific Northwest Grain and Feed Association; a barge company; two law firms; an official from the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department; and the Washington Association of Wheat Growers.

The PNWA group met with 20 senators and congressmen. One other senator and one representative were unable to meet with the group due to last minute committee meetings. In addition, PNWA met with agency officials from the White House, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Lt. Gen. Robert C. Flowers, commander and chief of engineers), the Environmental Protection Agency and congressional committee staffers. Separately, Rep. Brian Baird met with a group from the ports of Vancouver, Ridgefield, Kalama, Portland and Ilwaco to discuss the issues of local significance.

PNWA hosted a Capitol Hill reception attended by congressional and agency staffers. Ten pounds of fresh cooked local Dungeness crab were air-frieghted to Washington by Bell Buoy Crab Co. of Chinook. The crab was the first food item to be completely consumed at the reception.

PNWA is most effective at working with Congress to secure funds needed by the Corps of Engineers for required maintenance projects. The president signed the fiscal year 2003 budget into law on Feb. 20 and it contains $630,000 for Ilwaco channel dredging. "We are very grateful to Sens. Murray and Cantwell along with Rep. Baird who championed this issue for us," Stiebritz said.

Additional funds for FY 2004 in the amount of $516,000 for Ilwaco and $1,632,000 for Chinook were requested. Ilwaco asked that the channel dredging be extended into the Ilwaco harbor as the corps did in past years when funding was less difficult. Benson Beach is budgeted to receive $900,000 for work this summer.

Ilwaco is exploring the possibility of funding dock replacement from the Department of Commerce. About 4,000 feet have been lost at the North and South Jetties. The same problem exists at other coastal ports along the Oregon and Washington coasts. For example, in December 2002 the Corps of Engineers made emergency repairs at the Port of Coos Bay.

The new budget includes $50 million for groundfish relief and Ilwaco is hopeful some of those funds will be used here to replace the losses to the economy from the loss of the ground-fishing fleet.

Meanwhile, the sardine quota that is divided between the north and south needs to be reallocated earlier in the season. Between the two processing plants in Ilwaco and four in Astoria nearly 1,000 jobs depend on the sardine fishery that has returned over the last few years. In 2002 the season was closed in mid-September when the northern quota was filled. The fishery managers were able to declare an emergency and re-open the fishery within a week, but by that time only about 15 percent of the boats and workers were able to return to work.

The PNWA office is located in Portland and its staff consists of Glenn Vanselow, Louise Bray and Kristin Hochswinder.

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