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Port of Grays Harbor Project Moves into High Gear

Since signing a Project Partnership Agreement on May 26, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Port of Grays Harbor Commissioners have moved quickly to deepen the Washington State harbor’s navigation channel to -38 feet MLLW.

Pre-solicitation notices went out in June. Bids were scheduled to be solicited in July with a contract award expected before the end of August, said Patricia Graesser, public affairs supervisor for the Seattle office of the Corps. The aim is to have dredging begin in October, “preferably the first of October,” Graesser said.

The Corps estimates that deepening the navigation channel to -38 feet will require the excavation and placement of 1.972 million cubic yards of sediment. Most of it would be placed at open-water sites. However, approximately 22,400 cubic yards of sediment would be unsuitable for open-water placement. That material would be dredged by clamshell bucket, transported to the dock in walled barges with filtered scuppers, then transferred to trucks to be carried to an upland site.

The Project Partnership Agreement commits the Corps and the Port of Grays Harbor to sharing the cost of the project. The Corps will pay 65 percent of the cost and the port will pay the other 35 percent.

According to Senator Patty Murray’s office, the Corps’ budget for fiscal year 2015 includes $8 million for the project. To complete the project, the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved another $7 million in Corps’ budget for fiscal year 2016, but that budget still awaits full Congressional approval.

Graesser said she did not know if the $15 million would be enough to cover the Corps’ portion of project expenses. Once the contract is in place, Graesser said the Corps will have a better idea of the final project cost.

Congress authorized the Corps to improve the navigation channel of Grays Harbor to -38 feet MLLW nearly 30 years ago in 1986. A General Design Memorandum in 1989, however, included an economic analysis based on the timber industry and log vessels, which at the time would not benefit from a channel depth of -38 feet MLLW. It was determined that all that was justified was to deepen the channel from the bar to Cow Point to -36 feet MLLW, and from Cow Point to Cosmopolis to -32 feet MLLW. The Corps completed that work in 1991.

With modern, deeper draft vessels unable to reach the port during low tide, the Port of Grays Harbor requested in 2007 that the navigation channel be deepened to the legislatively authorized depth. That initiated a new round of studies. Since then, the Corps has completed feasibility reports on improving the channel to its full, authorized depth, biological assessments, impact mitigation studies and environmental assessments. The Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement was completed in June 2014. Brigadier General John Kem signed the Record of Decision officially recommending deepening the channel to -38 feet MLLW in August 2014.

Grays Harbor is the only one of Washington State’s 11 deep-water ports that is directly on the Pacific coast.

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