The maintenance bill for Pier 2, built in the Port of Astoria’s infant years in 1915, is coming due on the current administration’s dime.

When Maintenance Manager Harold Culver and Mike Weston, director of business and development operations, went beneath the deck and alongside the substructure near Da Yang Seafoods on the north end of Pier 2 in February, they found parts of the pier’s substructure decaying, cracked, bent – or missing entirely.

Some of the damage, which Port staff said had arisen after the most recent storm season, was likely caused by the root of a tree or other debris being washed into the pier and thrown about by tidal action. Much of the pier’s issues, though, are mired in decades of deferred maintenance.

“This is not something that’s happened this week,” said Culver, who’s been with the Port since 1989, adding that since at least then there’s been no significant structural work on the pier. “I’ve been warning them of this coming up for years and years, and it’s fallen on deaf ears.”

The more recent damage has become somewhat of a wake-up call to the Port administration, which brought in former Astorian and expert marine engineer Bill Gunderson of PND Engineers Inc. from Seattle to assess the western side of the Pier 2 dock’s condition. They’re using his report as a guidebook for how to fix Pier 2 over the coming decade to keep it safely bringing in the seafood.

Pier 2 is home to three seafood processors, including Da Yang Seafoods on the north, West Bay Marketing in the middle and Astoria Pacific Seafoods on the southern end of the pier. They can employ hundreds on the pier in the summer, and they load all their fish from boats on the western dock.

“Whatever activity is going on on that dock, my first concern is safety,” said CEO Hank Bynaker, who was in Washington, D.C., drumming up federal support for ports at the time of the discovery of weaknesses near Da Yang and West Bay. “I thought it was really important that we get a pro opinion.”

He successfully asked the Port Commission at its March 19 meeting to declare an emergency and bring in Gunderson, who inspected on top and alongside of the western dock March 26 and 27.

The report from Gunderson, said Bynaker, will serve as the Port’s blueprint to effect the needed repairs within a 10-year timeline Gunderson noted to avoid more wholesale repairs.

Condition ranges to from critical to good

When he went along the top of the pier March 26, Gunderson took most immediate issue with scattered debris and fishing gear, along with the makeshift network of raised steel plating along the dock to cover holes in the deck and timber bull rails along the edge of the pier.

In the basic structure of Pier 2’s western dock, rows – also known as bents – of circular pilings driven into the river bank rise up out of the water. Horizontal mudsill boards run between the top of the pilings and the bottom of square posts, connecting the two components and providing the structure more integrity. The posts rise farther to cap, a thicker block of wood that connects with stringers, boards running horizontally and on which the deck rests.

“Overall, the condition of the Pier 2 West facility was found to range from critical to good condition; many of the deficiencies observed appear to be due to deferred maintenance,” said the report.

Part of the reason Pier 2, completed in 1915, might be holding up so well is its bulky build from the start.

“Five lines of railroad track extend the entire length of the pier,” said an untitled history of the Port on the shelves at the Clatsop County Heritage Museum, “with the storage capacity of 100 cars.”

It was also meant to handle three locomotive cranes, an electric derrick, lumber, marine ironworks and 3,000-ton capacity coal bunkers. The rail lines on it connected with those of the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway.

Weston said the Port hasn’t had the cargo revenues to invest lots of money into the deferred maintenance until Westerlund Log Handlers came in. But he’s optimistic that the Port can weather the storm and keep Pier 2 operational.

“The engineer’s report, I thought it would be a lot worse,” he said. “We can still operate. It gives us about 10 years (to make the repairs); we can take a chunk out of it each year.

“I’m confident in our ability to get that done. We can address the critical needs now, in this next budget cycle.”

Port crews have already moved the northernmost crane used by Da Yang to a safer location, as per Gunderson’s recommendations, and will do the same with another in front of West Bay’s plant in the coming week. They have concrete blocks on order to create a vehicle barrier 6 feet in along the western dock in front of Da Yang and West Bay to keep vehicles and other heavy equipment away.

Weston said this fiscal year, running until June 30, will be used to prepare for a construction project that will replace a roughly 60-foot-wide by 70-foot-long area of the dock next to Da Yang, ordering posts for the caps, posts and mudsills, along with tin, concrete and rebar for the decking. Weston said the Port will go along this summer, rebuilding the damaged portions of the pier from the mudsills up and replacing the decking.

“I hate piecemealing stuff, because it costs more in the long term,” said Weston. “But unless you have $10 or $20 million, you have to do that.”

Gunderson’s report also calls on the Port in the short-term to thoroughly inspect the entire deck of Pier 2, looking for holes to repair, and to introduce and/or enforce policies on equipment storage with tenants.

Fisherman see minimal impact

Pier 2 is still rather dead right now, but come summer it will fill up with workers for the seafood processors and lots of truck, forklift and other traffic.

“It just limits the space,” said Chang Lee, plant manager for Da Yang’s Astoria plant, about having part of the dock outside his company’s plant shut down. “We have to figure that out. We’ll make sure everybody’s safe. The boats can tie up, park no problem.”

Lee said the metal plates have always been there since he arrived in 2008. “I believe it’s safe. The only thing is it can get very windy during the wintertime.”

Dana Ferguson, owner of West Bay, said the issues of Pier 2 have always been around – it’s just something seafood processors have to work around.

“We’ve been fighting this battle for years, so it was nothing new,” he said about maintenance issues.

    

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