WARRENTON — When boat traffic was at its peak this summer in the Hammond Marina, some fishermen found themselves nearly trapped at the docks at low tide with only 7 to 10 inches of water under their boats.
After decades of hoping, negotiating and keeping a close eye on bills flying off to Congress, Warrenton is on its way to full ownership of the marina and boat basin. The city expects a transfer of ownership from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers next year, but one thing is already clear: Dredging needs to be priority No. 1.
In fact, members of the newly re-formed Hammond Marina Task Force and city officials are already looking to put dredging plans in motion — even before the transfer is final. At their first meeting this summer, the task force members concluded there was “no sense” in even talking about improvements or other development plans until the marina is dredged.
Local fishing guide Kelly Short used a drone to take overhead photos of the marina for Warrenton Harbormaster Jane Sweet during the summer fishing season. In one photo, trucks and boat trailers are everywhere, metal glinting in the sunlight. Another photo, taken at low tide, shows boats tied up along a stretch of dock. The pale brown-green bottom of the basin is clearly visible.
Sweet has talked to several engineers about the feasibility of setting up dredging soon. Still, she expects it to be a time-consuming process; it’s not something she wants to put off until the city has full ownership.
The marina hasn’t been dredged in more than a decade. Back then, the work cost between $200,000 and $250,000. Both the cost and the marina itself have likely shifted since, and whoever takes on the work now will have to redo surveys and soundings of the boat basin, Sweet said.
“There’s a lot of unused water there that could turn into more slips, or moving the slips over,” Mayor Henry Balensifer said. “There’s a lot of stuff that could be done there.”
But, he added, echoing Sweet, “Dredging permits only last so long before you lose them … There’s process, so it’s better to get these things moving.”
Hammond is not the only marina near the mouth of the Columbia River beleaguered by dredging concerns.
The ports of Ilwaco and Chinook in Washington state must also worry about material silting in boat slips and marina entrances. While the Army Corps uses large dredging vessels to keep federal channels clear in the Columbia River, these marinas and basins fall outside of the agency’s responsibility.
Ilwaco, however, has its own small dredge for marina work. In January, the port moved the dredge down the highway to Chinook to dredge the smaller port’s marina. In November, the same dredge is scheduled to work in the Port of Astoria’s West Mooring Basin, which hasn’t been dredged in 11 years and where accumulated sediment threatens the docks.
Warrenton has leased the Hammond Marina from the Army Corps for more than 50 years.
“But it wasn’t like the Corps of Engineers was putting in new docks or anything,” Balensifer said. “That was all on us.”
Over the years, the city made small improvements to the marina. Most recently, Sweet oversaw bathroom improvements, as well as repairs and improvements to the parking lot. She also put a camp host in place this summer.
The work paid off, literally. The Hammond Marina hit several revenue records this year during the busy summer months and is on track to exceed its budget in camping and launch fees alone.
“It was one of the best years so far,” Sweet said.
But all those financial gains could quickly dry up if the marina becomes unusable, she said. For now, fishermen can plan their launches around the tides, but it is a far from ideal situation.
“It’s a huge economic impact if we don’t have that (marina),” Warrenton City Commissioner Pam Ackley told other commissioners at a meeting in mid-September after she had attended the marina task force meeting.
Short agrees, saying, “They need it dredged, and they need new docks extra bad.” Given the improvements already completed, “they do those two things and they’ll be filled up year-round.”