Guest Column: Port of Nehalem Needs to Focus on Restoring Bay

By Cameron La Follette
Executive Director
Oregon Coast Alliance

The Port of Nehalem is backtracking on a major opportunity to aid Nehalem Bay. The Port’s mission statement includes a directive to “Support an economically and environmentally sustainable river.” The Port’s mission also includes a directive to “Enhance the health and navigability of the Nehalem River for the benefit of the Port District, Residents and Visitors.” The Port now has an opportunity to implement these mission statements in a dramatic way that will really help define and prioritize their mission in Nehalem Bay. But they have refused to step up to the plate.
Sediment accumulation is slowly strangling Nehalem Bay, silting it in, smothering estuarine life (including salmon runs), limiting navigation even for small boats, and increasing flooding for bayfront towns. Approached by concerned residents, the U.S. Geological Survey proposed to first study the location, rates and processes causing sedimentation in Nehalem Bay. With that information in hand, USGS would then evaluate current sedimentation rates relative to historic rates, and quantify the sediment loads entering the Bay, especially from upland areas. As a final step, USGS would develop a basin-wide sediment budget.
USGS estimated the cost for the initial study of sedimentation processes at $61,500. In May the Port of Nehalem publicly announced it had “decided to consider” funding $20,000 of the price tag. Then the Port backtracked. Instead of providing the funding, the Budget Committee decided only to provide a line item for the study, “providing the remainder” of the funds were provided by USGS and others. Why? The Port’s mission certainly includes funding such a study wholly or in part.
The Port taxes Port District residents, but they get little in return. The Port has essentially become a bank account, sitting on a massive amount of taxpayer money – and doing almost nothing. As of May, the Port had $769,700 in their account. Of that, some $227,000 was in the Port’s general fund, and another $517,000 was in the Channel Maintenance Reserve Fund. “Channel maintenance” can and should be interpreted consistently with the mission statement to include funding an activity like this study, which will help support an environmentally sustainable river.
The Port could fund the entire USGS study and have more than enough money remaining for other tasks. They should use the taxpayer money they are sitting on to help restore Nehalem Bay to health. This study is the first step. The Port needs a new compass: its mission must evolve into protecting the resources of the Nehalem watershed. The hour has come for the Port to go beyond a narrow, cautious economic development outlook and explore ways to restore the slowly dying Nehalem Bay to health. With all the money at its disposal, the Port could become a leader. Nehalem Bay and its communities desperately need a leader. The health of the Bay ecosystem is at stake.