OCEAN PARK - Following a successful test last summer of pumping sediment over North Jetty onto fast-disappearing Benson Beach, engineers enthusiastically assert they can deliver at least three to four million cubic yards of dredged material back into the near-shore wave system that maintains Washington beaches and habitat.
There's a hang-up over insufficient funding for another test this summer, but that could actually be turned to the project's advantage if participants play their cards right, engineers suggest.
It's no wonder beaches are eroding from Fort Canby to the Olympic Peninsula: Sediment totaling five million cubic yards a year used to make a right turn at the Columbia and travel north, but now it's dumped places where it does no good.
At a quarterly meeting Friday in Ocean Park of the Coastal Communities of Southwest Washington - which is a partnership of various government entities and Pacific International Engineering - PIE personnel presented a just-released report on last summer's $775,000 demonstration project at Benson Beach.
Benson Beach, located in Fort Canby State Park, marks the very beginning of a natural sediment resupply system that has shaped the Washington coastline for eons. Some scientists believe the only effective way to preserve the coastline as we know it is by loading Columbia sediment into this system at Benson Beach, the beginning of a "sand conveyor belt."
Between July 16-19 a small dredge vessel, the Sugar Island, pumped about 44,000 cubic yards of fine sand ashore at Benson Beach through a floating pipe as it maneuvered in calm water just south of the jetty.
Chuck Gale of PIE said this test conclusively proved sediment can be delivered over the jetty in a safe and cost-effective manner. A meeting two weeks ago with staff in the Portland office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who were at first lukewarm about the project, made it clear they also regard the test a resounding success, Gale said.
The comparatively small amount of sand pumped onto Benson Beach leaves a major issue unresolved, whether much greater quantities will stay on Benson Beach in the summer when currents flow south and migrate north where they're needed in the winter when currents change direction.
About a million yards of sediment are in motion just off the beach, and the 44,000 yards last summer left little tracable impact. PIE President Harry Hosey said 150,000 to 500,000 yards "are needed to see what's happening in the surf zone."
Conducting a test on this scale would require $2 million, in PIE's opinion, and $1.5 million according to the Corps of Engineers. The two parties cooperated and almost succeeded in obtaining $1.5 million, but congressional negotiators cut that to $905,000 last week, only enough to place 80,000 to 100,000 cubic yards of sand on the beach. Hosey said little more can be learned from an experiment on that scale.
The Corps also received $350,000 in funding to begin a rehabilitation study on the deteriorating north jetty, and Hosey said congressional pressure could shift those funds into the Benson Beach project, allowing for a total test of 150,000 to 200,000 cubic yards of sand. But doing this, Hosey said, would irritate the Corps and place strains on a budding relationship.
Instead, Hosey outlined an ambitious alternative that would move the project into its next phase in 2004. Project sponsors would, in effect, release this year's funds in return for assurances of about $3 million in total funding next year.
Hosey said U.S. Reps. Brian Baird and Norm Dicks can swing that amount of money for a project potentially giving the Corps a permanent mechanism for disposing of dredge spoils, while at the same time alleviating an erosion problem many believe is caused by current dedge disposal practices.
PIE's plan entails creation of a 10-foot deep sump hole roughly 400 feet in width and 1,000 in length in the floor of the river south of the jetty. Dredge ships would dump their loads into this hole, and a semi-permanent barge at this sump hole would then pump the sand over the jetty to the beach.
That sand would be formed into a small peninsula jutting into the ocean from Benson Beach in the summer of 2004. From there, engineers believe it will be redistributed north along the Pacific Coast in the winter.
The Coastal Communities group agreed in principle to Hosey's suggestions, which he planned to present in person to the two congressmen in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday of this week.