Riverwalk finally recovers from storms

Crews from Big River Construction Inc. continue storm damage repairs along the Astoria Riverwalk near the Columbia River Maritime Museum Thursday.

Fifteen months after strong winter storms pummeled the Astoria waterfront, repairs along the eroded banks of the Columbia River are essentially complete.

Big River Construction Inc. finished armoring deteriorated areas along the Astoria Riverwalk with new rock. The contractor also removed trees and is stabilizing a portion of waterfront owned by the Columbia River Maritime Museum.

City Engineer Jeff Harrington said the city had about 20 small spots along the Riverwalk that needed to be rearmed with large rocks to protect against coastal erosion. The city estimated $82,000 to complete the repairs, he said, but Big River, based in Astoria, came in with a bid of $44,400. Harrington said 75 percent of the project will be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, with a 25 percent local match covered by the Oregon Business Development Department’s Infrastructure Finance Authority.

One of the most noticeable remnants of the 2015 storms was a patch of locust trees just east of the Maritime Museum leaning over the Columbia after waves reached over rocks and scoured out portions of the waterfront. After finishing the city’s work, Big River started the museum’s property.

“We attempted to save all the trees that we could,” said Dave Pearson, deputy director of the museum.

Several trees were taken out and will not be replaced. Pearson said Big River is expected to finish work today, after which the museum will replant the grass and clean the area up.

As a private nonprofit, the museum was not allowed reimbursement by FEMA like public agencies. Pearson said the museum was offered a U.S. Small Business Administration loan, but decided to finance the project in-house.

“It was expensive, but less than the city’s” project, Pearson said. “It was significant for us.”

The Riverwalk work represented a smaller portion of the $257,000 in claims the city had with FEMA for storm damage.

A hillside along Pipeline Road eroded near a city waterline along Little Bear Creek during the 2015 storms. The City Council approved repairing the slide with rock armoring, but the National Marine Fisheries Service, which has to sign off on projects affecting a nearby fish-bearing stream, did not provide a permit.

Harrington said FEMA is now consulting with the fisheries service on alternative ideas to fix the slide area. The work, which needs to wait until no fish are present, will take place between July and the middle of September.

Harrington said FEMA has taken on the challenge of interfacing with other government agencies that have a say in local projects, but is now facing delays because of disaster claims from this past winter.

The Port of Astoria experienced more storm damage in 2015 than any other agency, with claims for several areas of damage rising into the millions of dollars. The agency is still in the process of filing claims with FEMA.

One of the hardest-hit areas was around the face of Pier 2, the only repair project for which Port Executive Director Jim Knight said he has received an engineer’s estimate on. “Our estimate for those repairs is $5.4 million,” he said.

The estimate forms the basis of a claim the Port will send to FEMA seeking reimbursement for 75 percent of repair costs. The Port recently secured a $1.5 million Connect Oregon VI infrastructure grant to act as the local 25 percent match.

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