Repairing the jetties is necessary but source of rock is a problemThere aren't many here at the mouth of the Columbia who object to repairing major jetties that keep the shipping channel clear of sediment, but many more are troubled by plans to expand a long-closed quarry near Willapa Bay to provide rock for the repairs.

The North and South jetties are in trouble. Both major jetties have lost hundreds of feet at their ends to erosion. In other places along their lengths, erosion threatens to breach them, a situation the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers fears could allow vast amounts of muck to slough off into the navigation channel. If this happened, it could curtail shipping between the Pacific and upriver ports for months.

The Corps views the North Jetty in Washington as its first priority. That jetty holds back millions of cubic yards of sediment comprising the Benson Beach area of Cape Disappointment State Park. Since 1996, the Corps has noted a sharp spike in the number and intensity of winter storms here, with particularly bad conditions in 1998 and 2001. Another similar winter may breach North Jetty, the corps believes.

Corps officials make a good case for fixing the jetties now rather than waiting for a breach to occur. It is much safer and less costly to work in decent conditions, $4 million or so for North Jetty and $10 for South Jetty, compared to three to five times as much for emergency repairs.

So, conceding that jetty repairs and a more thorough reconditioning at some point in the future make good sense, a significant problem has emerged with the Corps' plans for where to obtain repair material.

At briefings for the public and news media earlier this year, the source of rock for North Jetty repair was glossed over, though discussions were held on the desirability of barging rock downriver to a temporary dock on the water side of the jetty, as opposed to trucking rock overland through Ilwaco next year during the peak of Lewis and Clark Bicentennial observances.

Sometime in the intervening months, the Corps has abandoned plans to obtain the rock from an upriver source, and now intends to reopen the 1940s-era quarry that provided material for construction of the smaller "A" Jetty, which juts south from Cape Disappointment. The Corps has fast-tracked its plans, with a public comment period set to end later this week.

This plan has serious environmental and logistical drawbacks.

In the first place, this quarry is located right by Willapa Bay, a national treasure with pure water that produces a large share of the Northwest's oysters, in addition to providing habitat for salmon, sturgeon, crab and other commercially valuable species. Expanding the quarry from 1.5 to 10 acres, removing 375,000 of dirt and vegetation and moving it across a creek, and then blasting-out more than a million cubic yards of rock over a 20-year or more period is enough to raise anyone's eyebrows. The Corps shows little evidence of having considered impacts from noise on migrating birds and other wildlife, sediment on fish and other related issues. Visual impacts on a beautiful shoreline also will be significant.

Topping off the problems with this scheme are disruptions that would accompany trucking millions of tons of rock around the winding curves of Willapa Bay on U.S. Highway 101, through Ilwaco and one of Washington's busiest state parks during what is expected to be an exceptionally high-traffic period. Heavily loaded trucks vying with RVs and tourist cars represent a tremendous safety concern, to say nothing of the damage they will do to the highway.

The Corps clearly has not thought through the local impacts and consequences of obtaining jetty rock from the shores of the bay. Barging rock from any one of several sites in the Skamokawa-Brookfield area makes much more sense. We hope local people and our political representatives will be able to convince the Corps to take a sensible course of action.

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