Top brass from the Army Corps of Engineers traveled to Port Orford Tuesday to deliver bad news. The corps says it can’t afford to dredge the fishing port now or in the foreseeable future. Other small ports in the Northwest will face similar cuts.
Fishermen in rubber boots packed a small community center.
They told the Army Corps staff the harbor in Port Orford has filled with sand.
The shallow water causes waves to break over their boats as they leave the dock.
Donny Goforth says there are fewer days he can safely get to sea.
Goforth: “And if I can’t get out then we’re all going to to be standing there, going broke. And when we go broke and we can’t go fishing this little town is going to dry up and go away and it’s one of the oldest ones on the Oregon coast.”
For 40 years the Army Corps has dredged Port Orford’s navigation channel to keep it clear. But Congress and the president have slashed the maintenance budget for small ports.
Colonel John Eisenhower heads up the corp’s Portland district. He told the community fishing in Port Orford only contributes about $5 million to the national economy. Ports that small can no longer expect federal help.
Eisenhower: “Port Orford is the first of what we expect to be many low use harbors not only along the Oregon coast that are going to experience zero funding this following fiscal year and future fiscal years.”
Tom Calvanese: “There is a very real possibility that someone could be injured or killed.”
That’s Tom Calvanese, a local biologist who commercially fishes for sea urchin. Calvanese says the meeting left him feeling pretty hopeless. He says the community has come up with one idea to try to remove some sand.
Calvanese: “Our local fisherman will be tying their boats up to the docks in a few weeks and using the prop wash from their vessels to blow sand out of the channel enough to be able to use the harbor.”
Calvanese says the do-it-yourself propeller dredging can damage boats and is not a long term solution for Port Orford.
But it might make the channel a little deeper, and safer when the crabbing season starts next month.
Copyright 2012 Northwest Public Radio