Keeping Oregon's Ports Open: The Importance of Port Dredging on the Oregon Coast


The ports on the Oregon Coast are essential hubs for transportation, trade, and economic activity in the region. However, maintaining these ports can be challenging due to the constant buildup of sediment in the waterways leading to them. To help new local residents, beginning county employees and new city council members better understand why the ports on the Oregon Coast get dredged (and how this process supports the local economy and community) this report provides a comprehensive overview of the topic and includes case examples to illustrate key points.

The topics covered in this report and a number of case examples from Oregon Coast ports should provide the real-world context needed to demonstrate the importance of dredging for the region. By the end of this report, readers will have a clear understanding of why port dredging is essential for the Oregon Coast and how it supports the local economy and coastal communities.

Why Maintaining Navigational Channels is Important

One of the primary reasons for dredging ports on the Oregon Coast is to maintain navigational channels. Over time, sediment builds up in these channels, making them shallower and narrower. This can make it difficult or even impossible for ships to navigate to and from the ports. By dredging these channels, the sediment is removed, and the channels are restored to their original depth and width. This is critical for ensuring that ships of all sizes can access the ports and transport goods and resources to and from the region.

An example of the importance of dredging for maintaining navigational channels can be seen at the Port of Coos Bay. The channel leading to this port has been experiencing significant sedimentation for decades, reducing the depth of the channel and making it difficult for large ships to access the port. To address this, the Army Corps of Engineers has been dredging the channel regularly to maintain its depth and ensure the port remains accessible to ships of all sizes.

Dredging and Accident Prevention

Dredging is also essential for preventing accidents in ports and ensuring the safety of ships and crew members. Sediment buildup can make it difficult to navigate waterways, especially during periods of low tide or bad weather. This can increase the risk of accidents such as ships running aground or colliding with each other. By dredging ports, the channels leading to them are kept clear, reducing the risk of accidents and ensuring the safety of ships and crew members.

In 2017, the fishing vessel Lady Law capsized and sank at the entrance to the Coquille River Bar in Oregon, resulting in the loss of three crew members. An investigation revealed that the vessel ran aground due to the buildup of sediment at the entrance to the river, reducing the depth of the channel and making it difficult to navigate. This tragic incident underscores the importance of dredging for preventing accidents in ports and ensuring the safety of ships and crew members.

Improving Overall Port Efficiency on the Oregon Coast

Dredging is also important for improving port efficiency. By removing sediment from the channels leading to ports, ships can access the ports more easily and quickly, reducing wait times and increasing efficiency. This can help to attract more shipping traffic to the ports and support economic growth in the region.

An example of the importance of dredging for improving port efficiency can be seen at the Port of Astoria. In 2020, the port completed a major dredging project that removed over 300,000 cubic yards of sediment from the shipping channel, deepening it to 43 feet. This allowed the port to accommodate larger ships and increase cargo capacity, improving the efficiency of port operations and supporting economic growth in the region.

Dredging Offers Economic Benefits

Port dredging is vital for maintaining the economic viability of coastal communities. When shipping channels are too shallow, ships must reduce their cargo loads or bypass the port entirely, resulting in lost revenue and jobs. In Astoria, for example, the Port of Astoria generates more than $100 million in economic activity annually, supporting over 1,000 jobs.

The Port of Newport offers another prime example of how dredging supports economic activity on the Oregon Coast. The port is a major hub for commercial fishing, and the dredging of the Yaquina Bay channel is essential for ensuring that fishing vessels can access the port and unload their catch.

An example of the importance of dredging for supporting the local economy can also be seen at the Port of Coos Bay. This port serves as a crucial gateway for the export of products such as timber, seafood, and paper products, and has undergone multiple dredging projects to ensure it remains accessible to large cargo vessels. Dredging the shipping channel ensures that the port can continue to serve as a gateway for trade and commerce, benefiting local businesses and industries.

The Safety Benefits of Port Dredging

Dredging also plays a critical role in ensuring the safety of maritime traffic. When shipping channels are too shallow, vessels can run aground or collide with underwater obstructions, posing a significant risk to crew, cargo, and the environment. In Coos Bay, for example, dredging the navigation channel and turning basin allowed larger vessels to enter the port safely, reducing the risk of accidents and spills. This is particularly important for ports that handle hazardous materials or fuel, such as the Port of Newport. 

Another example of the importance of dredging for safety can be seen at the Port of Astoria. The port's channel has been regularly dredged to ensure that large vessels, including cruise ships, can safely navigate the waters and access the port.

The Environmental Benefits of Port Dredging

Port dredging has environmental benefits as well. By removing accumulated sediment and debris, dredging helps to maintain water quality and habitat for marine life. The Port of Garibaldi, for example, partnered with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to create a new artificial reef with dredged material, providing a valuable habitat for rockfish, lingcod, and other species. Dredging also helps to reduce erosion and mitigate the impacts of coastal storms and flooding.

Supporting Fishing and Recreational Boating

Port dredging supports recreational boating and fishing activities, which are critical to the quality of life and tourism economy of coastal communities. The Port of Gold Beach, for example, dredged its harbor to allow for increased recreational boater activity and fishing access, providing a boost to local businesses that cater to these activities. In addition, the Port of Newport dredged its marina and boat launch area to enhance recreational opportunities and support local fishing and crabbing industries. Recreational boating activities such as sailing, kayaking, and paddleboarding are popular on the Oregon Coast and rely on dredging to ensure safe navigation in the waterways.

Conclusion on Port Dredging and the Oregon Coast
In conclusion, port dredging is essential to ensuring safe and efficient navigation, supporting economic development, protecting the environment, and enhancing recreational opportunities on the Oregon Coast. By investing in port dredging, local communities can continue to thrive and grow, while preserving the unique beauty and vitality of Oregon's coastal ports.

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