The Canal, Chapter TwoObserver editor Jim O'Neil never gave up on the idea of an inland waterway between Puget Sound and the Columbia River.
In June 1941 he wrote the canal looked like a "sure thing," that the project was at "the top of the list of projects approved by Congress." Whether or not the canal construction was truly imminent in 1941, World War II came along and put all sorts of projects on hold.
In the early 1960s the topic surfaced again. An editorial in the Daily Astorian pointed out the potential benefit of a Puget Sound-to-Columbia River inland waterway to tugs and barges, log rafts, commercial fishermen and pleasure boaters.
Next, the Willapa Harbor Port Commission of South Bend and Raymond began to express enthusiasm for a Willapa Harbor-to-Columbia River canal as a way to avoid the continual fussing-with that the Willapa Bay bar required. It needed constant dredging to maintain enough depth to allow partly-loaded ships in and out of the bay. In addition, the land on the north shore of the Bay's mouth, known as "Washaway Beach," eroded regularly and rapidly.
"Willapa Harbor Port Manager Jim Bean outlined the proposal and its present status last night at a port commission meeting. Bean remarked that an estimated talking cost to construct the canal runs about $15 million. This figure falls far below a possible $75 million to build the two jetties that Willapa Harbor's bar needs to make it permanently suitable for shipping. ... The manager said that steamship lines favor the proposal and that approval or at least lack of disapproval has been indicated by the oyster industry and other concerned interests.
"Bean talked in terms of constructing a channel that would provide a normal depth of 33 feet and a width of 300 feet. This would be accomplished by digging a canal across about five miles of land from the Columbia to lower Willapa bay and dredging the present channel north to Raymond. ... The proposed overland canal would fall under the jurisdiction of the Port of Ilwaco. A lock would be needed to provide for different levels between the Columbia and Willapa Bay. If the canal became reality, plans call for discontinuance of the mouth of Willapa Harbor as a shipping route."
-July 12, 1963, Aberdeen World
In December 1963, the U.S. Congress approved $20,000 toward the preliminary planning of a comprehensive study of the proposed Columbia-Puget Sound canal.
"Canal 'Feasible.' Continued interest in and encouragement for a proposed Columbia River-Puget Sound canal via Willapa Harbor and Grays Harbor on the part of U.S. Army Engineers should hearten proponents. ... In fact the hint has been dropped that Engineers are particularly interested in that portion of such a canal that would connect Willapa Harbor either with the Columbia or Grays Harbor for the simple reason that the Willapa entrance channel is too difficult to maintain. There is some work being done on the canal proposal with a $100,000 appropriation made for preliminary study."
-Sept. 25, 1964, Aberdeen World
"Rep. Julia Butler Hansen, at Wednesday's intracoastal waterway hearing in Olympia, heartily endorsed the proposed project and stated she desired to have her endorsement a matter of record. Mrs. Hansen did, however, make such reservation as desiring to have it assured that the proposed waterway would in no way hinder the cranberry and oyster industries."
-Nov. 12, 1965
"Canal By 1972 It Was Forecast. Thirty-five members of Washington Coast Highway Association and visitors met at the Dunes Cafe in Grayland last Thursday night in preparation for going to the legislature for funds for a feasibility survey for the Leadbetter Point-Tokeland bridge. ... According to President Engle, the first section of the Columbia River to Puget Sound canal, from Willapa to Grays Harbor, should be finished by 1972, and the material removed will make an ideal base for one section of the coastal highway, it was believed."
-Jan. 13, 1967
"A proposed intracoastal waterway between Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor 'may merit detailed study,' but two other proposed segments [farther north] are questionable, the Corps of Engineers said this week. A decision is expected before the end of the year on whether to undertake costly detail studies."
-Jan. 20, 1967
In the end, the proposed Columbia-River-to-Puget-Sound project didn't have enough going for it, either in part or in total, to be undertaken. There was one more flurry of discussion in 1972 about building the Grays Harbor-Willapa Bay canal as a solution to the continual erosion and dredging of the Willapa Bay entrance, but the conversation appears to have gone no further.
Were the proposal ever to resurface, it is hard to imagine that environmental concerns and the interests of the oyster industry could be reconciled to having ships plowing through that very shallow bay east of the Peninsula.