Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Columbia River Protected by Weakened Wall

A pair of jetties, jutting into the boiling Pacific from the north and south edges of the river’s 2-mile-wide mouth, stand as thin lines of defense against the bar’s worst instincts. The jetties tamp down waves from the ocean. They also serve as a barricade against beach sand that would otherwise quickly clog the relatively narrow shipping channel and close the gateway to ports more than 100 miles upriver in Vancouver and Portland.

Battered by storms, the jetties originally constructed from huge boulders mined in Camas are now eroding away.

The government bought some time with a series of repairs beginning four years ago, but that was only temporary. “It’s already deteriorating pretty badly,” Torjusen said. Meanwhile, the risk of a jetty breach increases with each winter storm.

Maintaining the jetties is imperative.

Together, they serve as the Columbia’s front gate, welcoming 2,000 ships per year — nearly 500 bound for Vancouver — and billions of dollars worth of trade. When the bar shuts down, it freezes a conveyer belt of commerce from the ships that enter the river to barges and trains carrying grain from as far as Kansas.

“It’s a little frightening to know that if one of those jetties failed, it would all stop very quickly,” said Larry Paulson, the Port of Vancouver’s executive director.

Next month, the Army Corps of Engineers will unveil a rehabilitation plan involving the placement of a million tons of Volkswagen-sized rocks, as well as several perpendicular rock “groins” designed to shore up the jetties’ sand foundations. Repairs will cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Click the link to find out more about this project.