Little old Nahcotta

<p>Mary DeLong, port manager, and  Tony Kangas, assistant harbour master, stand on the fueling dock porch with the pier behind them. (Larry Hendrickson, harbour master, was not available the day of the photo.)</p>

    “One quarter of all the oysters in the nation come through the Port of Peninsula,”

—Mary DeLong

    My primroses are blooming — lively yellow and deep purple. I’ve even seen the first opportunistic weeds poking up green through deep layers of mulch. A sure sign that last week’s winter snow is just saber rattling. Spring will be here before we know it.

    In the midst of our recent blow, I spoke to Port of Peninsula manager, Mary DeLong, tucked into her bayside office at 275th. Mary’s got a great view out over the docks and the fueling station. The port seems a little sleepy in the winter but there’s always something going on.


A very small port?

    Our north end port has seven acres upland (and a huge shell mound), six acres of marina and even a place to picnic, which DeLong hopes to enhance with a covered pavilion.

    “We’re 90 percent a commercial port with a little recreational use. We have the oyster and crabbing fleet, gillnetters and all their boats and equipment. Currently we’re working on an update to our comprehensive plan for the port. Our last major project was completed in 2008,” said DeLong.

    “We have 88 slips and some mooring balls. We’re a pretty small port in that respect but one quarter of the nation’s oysters pass through our port. So we have a huge impact on the economic vitality of our region.”

    Economic Development Director Cathy Russ, elaborates, “There are four ports in Pacific County — two riverside and two bayside. The Port of Peninsula is a very vital piece of infrastructure for the shellfish industry on Willapa Bay. It’s the primary source for unloading harvested product from vessels to truck, then moving on to market or value-added processing.”

    “On average, the total product moved through the port is 860,000 bushels per year, primarily oysters. That was in 2006 when our Manila clam production was just emerging. Also moving over their docks is crab, gillnet catch, and gravel used in clam bed maintenance. There are roughly 600 jobs directly and indirectly related to the shellfish and fishing industry that relies on this port’s infrastructure.

    “Yes, 23 percent of the nation’s oysters are produced in Pacific County, nearly two-thirds of the entire state’s production. Based on 2006 figures, the shellfish industry generates about $10 million wholesale value to Pacific County and provides over $17 million in personal income.”


Growth of Manila clams

     “The industry has suffered some issues with poor natural sets and has had some problems with the nursery production of oyster seed,” DeLong said. “We had a small natural set this year which is better than none in the last four years. For the most part though they’ve gone to the farming oyster sets.”

    But, as if to compensate for the oysters, “Manila clams have been blossoming.”

    Russ acknowledged that the clam harvest has grown tremendously in the last five years.

    And Kim Patten, extension professor at the WSU Long Beach office, sent some “ballpark only” amounts. “No one is willing to provide exact value, but we think maybe there is revenue of $5 million a year in Manila clam harvest on the bay. That can easily double if conditions improve for their production.”

    He means if japonica can be properly managed and there is a good natural set, “although not all these go into and out of Port of Peninsula. It would be hard to separate out Nahcotta from South Bend, Raymond and Bay Center, as some of the same companies use all areas.”


Port upgrades

    When Mary took the manager job there had been years of deferred maintenance at the port. “We had a rickety old pier when I came in 2005. We were looking at possibly having to shut it down. But we took out a bond of $2.3 million — a combination of state and county monies — and we got it done.

    “We basically rebuilt the pier and pretty much doubled its size. We had one product hoist before and now we have three. We upgraded the boat lift so we can haul out boats up to eight tons and 30 feet — we could only haul five tons before — so we can lift our gillnetters out now.”

    “We have modernized the fuel delivery system so that’s all state of the art. We can do three or four operations at a time now when before we could barely do one, maybe fuel and off load at the same time.

    “In 2005, we were also tide-dependent [boats couldn’t unload except at high tide]. So we moved 100,000 cubic yards of dredge material and deposited it with a clam-shell north of Goose Point into a deep hole.” A clamshell dredge has two doors that open in the middle, like a shell, to dump spoils to the bottom below the boat.

    “We aren’t dredging any more right now and it’s holding well. The port channel is six to 10 feet and most of our boats are shallow draft — we don’t have any cruise ships! Port of Willapa Harbor just bought a suction dredge, and we’re hoping to use that in the next few years to do some maintenance. We don’t silt in as fast as they do so our dredging needs aren’t yearly. We’re going to borrow theirs rather than going to the expense of buying our own. We’re hoping to get permits for ‘flow lane disposal’ this time.”

    Dropping dredge material in the “flow lane” is less expensive because it doesn’t involve transportation to a distant dumping point. The currents spread and flush the material out of the bay.

    DeLong continued, “We’ll use a suction dredge with an eight inch cutter edge, that will shoot the material through a pipe low in the channel that runs right next to the break water. It’s a swift moving channel and pretty deep. We’ll pump into the current and it will go out the mouth of the bay or become beach enrichment, for example to Washaway.

    “It came from the bay and it’s going back to the bay.”


Port of Peninsula

    Why “Port of Peninsula?” I’ve always puzzled over that. First of all, what happened to the “the.” Then Sydney Stevens and Nancy Lloyd cued me in to the fact that none of the Washington Ports use “the” — it’s a naming tradition.

    Then, secondly, why Peninsula? Mary said, “I have no idea. I think it should be Port of Nahcotta.” I have to agree. But I guess it’s not as clunky sounding as Port of Port Townsend, Port of Hoodsport, Port of Keyport, or Port of Wahkiakum County No. 1 and Port of Wahkiakum County No. 2. So the port of Little Old Nahcotta stands in for the whole Peninsula.


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