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Port evaluating impact of delta on waterfront

By SUE RYAN

News staff writer

January 13, 2007

While sand deposited by flood events at the Hood River waterfront two months ago has shifted, the dirt isn’t going away anytime soon.

When heavy rain hit Nov. 5-8, water rolled debris off Mount Hood. High waters carried it downstream beyond the mouth of the Hood River into the Columbia River.

If weather holds Friday, an aerial survey plane will bear surveyors from Terra Surveying Inc. aloft to begin mapping the state of the waterfront.

“We have to assess it from both the near-term impacts but also the long-term impacts,” said Michael McElwee, executive director for the Port of Hood River. “So what we are doing immediately is to define the area and quantity of the deposit.”

He said a preliminary look at the site from the ground had the surveyors estimating the size of the delta at 30-odd acres. The port contracted with the firm to do the work as it also needed to update its aerial maps of all their waterfront properties.

Besides the delta itself; sand has filled in part of the Marina Beach, the Event Site, and covered the Spit. What impact that will have on recreation may be too early to tell in advance of the season.

“It is something that might change; be impacted by spring flows in the Columbia River that tend to be higher,” said Michael Schock.

He serves on the port’s waterfront recreation committee and also on the Columbia Gorge Windsurfing Association Board. Schock said as an active windsurfer, he has a strong interest in making sure there is access for windsurfers and others.

“It affects the launch (at the Event Site) as far as people being able to get on the water,” he said. “It also affects how people can come in. If that is submerged; people might hit it coming in.”

McElwee said the port will convene the waterfront recreation committee within two weeks to ask them to form an ad-hoc committee.

“On a practical level, we need to work with the recreation communities to evaluate this dynamic new environment and assess its impact on recreation and what we can do about it. There may be very little we can do about it,” he said.

The ad-hoc committee will be comprised of members of the recreation community that includes representatives of various sports. McElwee said the port will give them updates on the changing situation and talking about what can be done in advance of the spring sport season.

“There may be some need for identifying sites, launch sites, rigging sites for people to use,” he said.

McElwee said with the spread of the sand so far to the north, it will present safety issues for kiteboarders that might be tempted to launch from the delta.

“If they launch all the way to the north edge then they would be in the shipping channel right away,” he said.

McElwee and Schock both said it’s important that people remember that access to the area can be dangerous.

Part of that danger includes large logs and other debris embedded in the sand that are submerged when the level of the Bonneville Pool fluctuates between 5 and 6 feet.

Whether the sand will be dredged has yet to be decided. The decision depends on funding and jurisdiction. In addition to covering up recreation sites, the sand has now completely blocked off access to the Nichols Boat Basin.

McElwee said the port is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to seek funding to establish the importance of navigation.

“To determine whether there is a need for federal intervention to open the channel to the basin,” he said.

He said while there has been some talk about dredging the Delta in the community, that it is not clear yet as to the need to do so. Because of where the land lies in the Columbia River, the Department of State Lands has established the property belongs to it.

Stephen Purchase is the assistant director of the land management division. He said that looking at an aerial photo of the deposit and comparing it to state maps that the material sits on state land.

“As far as decisions go, we’re the landowner,” he said. “We would have to give permission to remove fill from our property.”

The ownership map he referred to shows the approximate high water line in the Columbia River before construction of the dams. Purchase said the Corps built the structures, it either purchased property or bought flowage easements, which is the right to flood private land with water.

Because of the delta’s size and its location so far north out into the river, Purchase said his staff determined this last week that the delta sits on state land.

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