The Port of Astoria hopes to reopen a popular boat ramp at the East Mooring Basin before the busy Buoy 10 salmon-fishing season.
The agency has reached an agreement with fisheries regulators to remove derelict pilings near the tip of Pier 3 in exchange for an in-water work permit for the boat ramp.
Five pilings along the ramp were damaged by an abandoned boat tied up at the dock during a December storm.
Jim Knight, the Port’s executive director, said the agency had struggled to get an in-water work permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service to fix the dock because the regulators did not want to harm migrating endangered salmon. The usual in-water work window on the lower Columbia River begins in November, when the number of migrating salmon decreases.
“I approached it from the perspective of an economic hardship, if not an emergency, to our community,” Knight said. “It’s the only boat ramp we have in Astoria.”
The region experiences an economic boom in late summer when fishermen come to the North Coast for the Buoy 10 salmon fishery, renting hotel rooms and spending money at local businesses.
The Port’s revenue from parking and fuel sales skyrockets during the fishery, Knight said.
“The potential loss of all of those revenues … should warrant reconsideration of the decision because of the circumstance,” he said.
Knight reached out to the office of U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, which conveyed the Port’s concern to the fisheries agency. Shortly thereafter, the Port and the federal agency struck a deal to remove 20 derelict creosote-treated pilings at the tip of Pier 3 in exchange for a permit to replace the five pilings to fix the boat ramp.
“Those derelict creosote pilings, they can cause a lot of harm to juvenile fish when the (river) gets warm,” said Scott Hecht, a branch chief with the fisheries service who worked on the deal with the Port.
Migrating juvenile salmon hug the shorelines to avoid predators, many coming directly by the Port’s piers.
Although the fisheries service likes agencies to stay within the designated in-water work period, when the fewest number of fish are in the water, it recognized the region’s predicament with Buoy 10.
“We were really happy to correlate and collaborate with the Port to work together on this to find a creative solution,” Hecht said.
The Port has three years to remove the pilings, each of which can cost $700 to pull out of the riverbank, Knight said.