This is generally a slow time of year for activity along the Klaskanine River. Spawning seasons are long-since over. It's between hunting seasons. It's generally too wet and cold to be out around the water this time of year anyway.

It's a good time of year to be doing a little house cleaning.

But a tree disrupting navigation along the Klaskanine River is anything but little.

Those winter storms in December 2007 are blamed for an immense Sitka spruce tree falling into the river and nearly stopping navigation near the Olney General Store. The self-sufficient people that they are, folks just took out their chainsaws and hacked their way through.

But some found that it was a little too dangerous for their tastes and asked Clatsop County Commissioner (and former sheriff) John Raichl to look into the problem. He, in turn, called in the Clatsop County Sheriff's Office.

From the road, the blockage didn't look too bad. A closer look was going to be needed.

So, along with Sgt. Dean Schroeder, Clatsop County Marine Deputy Justin Minnick went up the river Oct. 9 to find out how bad the problem was. What they discovered was a Sitka spruce that had been blown down into the river.

Minnick reported his findings to the Oregon State Marine Board, which authorized its removal.

Marine Board Operations and Policy Analyst Randy Henry said there are a lot of criteria which go into deciding to remove obstacles in the state's waterways.

He said the board tries to leave some obstacles that fall into the waterways.

"They can have definite benefits to stream ecology," Henry said. "This time of year things fall into the rivers. Usually, it's a winter or spring problem. We have no intention of removing every tree. That's a natural process."

Oftentimes, the Marine Board lets nature take its course. Henry said when marine officers look at obstacles for potential removal, they look at safety, use and the ability to remove the obstacle. They also evaluate for the potential of Mother Nature to remove.

Sometimes the waterway can be cleared by making "strategic cuts" on the obstruction.

Ashley Massey, the Marine Board public information officer, maintains a page listing some of the know hazards along the state's waterways on its Web site.

"There are no 'cookie cutter' tree removals. These can be real expensive to remove," Henry said.

He said boaters need to be responsible for scouting ahead of themselves. They need to make sure there are no snags in front of them that can sink a vessel.

"It really comes back to personal responsibility," he said.

Henry said it's not unheard of for obstacle removals to cost upwards of $6,000.

"It was a little bit tough to find a contractor to do this," Henry said.

The contract for this particular tree removal is $5,000 to $7,500.

The tree has now been laying in the river, drawing water for more than a year. It is "silted in," meaning its hundreds of branches have this whole time been getting buried in silt.

Clyde Stanley, one of the owners of Big River Construction, said that when the county, state or any local municipalities call, his company responds. The company did more than $3 million in storm-related business after the December 2007 storm.

He said the philosophy of the company is try to come up with new ways of solving problems.

"We try to re-think things - how to do a tougher job and try to make it easier," he said. "We got a couple of big machines on it. We keep breaking the rigging. We're trying to pull way more than the weight of the tree. It's sitting in there, soaking up water."

Like most construction companies, the economic downturn has been difficult for Big River. At the height of last summer, it employed between 120 and 130. Now it's down to 60. Bridges became a big national priority after the collapse of the Interstate 35 Mississippi River Bridge in Minneapolis.

Some jobs Big River bid have been delayed, waiting on the stimulus package.


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