West Mooring Basin low water

More than a decade of no dredging has left many slips unusable at the Port of Astoria’s West Mooring Basin.

The Port of Astoria Budget Committee has approved spending $150,000 on dredging at the West Mooring Basin, where the agency faces slips filling in with silt and boats bottoming out.

The west side marina has a waiting list of more than 100. But the marina has not been effectively dredged in more than a decade. Some slips go dry at low tide, leaving boats exposed.

Tom Brownson, an Astoria city councilor and member of the Astoria Yacht Club, said members provide between $40,000 and $50,000 to the Port through moorage, the lease for their clubhouse in the Chinook Building and other boat work.

“The tenants that are using this, we need it dredged,” he said. “We need a place that is serviceable. I’ve been to other small ports up and down the coast, and most of them are in pretty good shape.”

A recent partnership between Astoria and the Port of Ilwaco, Washington, removed half of the expected sediment and opened less than a third of the intended slips, requiring private mediation to avoid a lawsuit.

The Port still has to find a firm capable of dredging the marina.

“If we’re looking purely at the numbers, it makes sense if we’re going to make an investment, to make it into the west basin,” said Will Isom, the Port’s finance director. “It’s been I think one of the success stories of the Port since I’ve been here.”

The Port collects $460,000 in annual moorages at the marina, nearly breaking even despite having $320,000 a year in debt payments related to its development, Isom said.

The marina could reopen 18 more slips with dredging, said Janice Burk, the Port’s marina manager. Each slip brings in around $2,000 in annual revenue, Isom said.

Port commissioners comprise half of the 10-member budget committee, with the other five appointed from the community. Every member of the committee voted Wednesday to support the West Mooring Basin project except Port Commissioner Bill Hunsinger, who lodged a protest vote over the agency’s lack of investment at the ailing East Mooring Basin.

The east side marina sits mostly empty. Last year, the Port closed the causeway providing access after state engineers found a severely rotting substructure and judged it unsafe to walk on. The proposed budget contains no new major investments at the east marina, which the Port is considering leasing to a private development group led by Pier 39 owner Floyd Holcom.

The Port could take care of its entire waiting list of boaters by improving the east marina, which doesn’t require as much dredging because of a self-scouring hydrology, Hunsinger said.

“This is going to be a definite loss to the Port of Astoria and to the community, because that other 100 people that would like to come here are also going to spend money in Clatsop County,” he said.

Budget committee member John Lansing and Port Commissioner Dirk Rohne commiserated with Hunsinger’s concerns, but said the Port has the opportunity to keep a full west marina in business and provide a better return on investment.

Keeping the marina in working order is also important for the Port’s efforts to sell the surrounding Astoria Riverwalk Inn, Chinook Building and former Seafare Restaurant to a private developer.

The dredging project at the west marina comes as the Port explores how to outsource dredging entirely rather than maintain its aging, outdated dredge, the Felkins.

Operating the dredge takes much of the Port’s maintenance staff off the docks for a large portion of the year. But contracting out for dredging costs significantly more money.

Edward Stratton is a reporter for The Astorian. Contact him at 971-704-1719 or estratton@dailyastorian.com.

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