Ilwaco Still on Tall Ships Port of Call List, But Silting Channel’s a Concern

By Andre Stepankowsky, March 24, 2013, Longview Daily News

Two tall sailing ships still are scheduled to make their popular annual visit to the Port of Ilwaco in late June, even though concerns remain about the depth of the channel leading to the harbor.

The Hawaiian Chieftain and the Lady Washington are slated to arrive June 27 and remain through July 1, Ilwaco Port Director Jim Neva said Friday. The ships typically are open for public tours and sometimes put on mock battles and other naval demonstrations.

Last fall, their owners expressed concerns that the two-mile channel leading to Ilwaco from the main Columbia River ship lane had become too silted in to accommodate the vessels. Any scrape against the bottom would mandate a costly dry dock inspection of the ships’ hulls.

Neva said the channel seems deep enough for the vessels for now, and there should be no problems for charter operators as the salmon season approaches. Still, he’s anxiously awaiting the latest report on the channel’s condition from an updated U.S. Army Corps of Engineers survey, due in a week or two.

Ilwaco and other small harbors across the nation are struggling with silting channels because of federal budget cuts. Typically, for example, the corps has had to dredge the Ilwaco channel every year. But it had no money to do so this year, and it may not next year. The situation is threatening many rural coastal economies, which are dependent on their ports for fishing, tourism and other maritime-related commerce.

However, Neva said, there’s some growing political support to tap into the Harbor and Maintenance Trust Fund. Congress created the program in 1983, funding it with a fee charged on cargo crossing docks at coastal ports and harbors. Since 2003, however, the fund has taken in $6.4 billion more than it has spent on harbor maintenance, as Congress tapped it to finance the rest of the federal budget.

Ports across the Pacific Northwest have been demanding for years that all the money be put to its intended use, and the political winds are shifting in their favor, Neva said, noting the fund takes in $700 million to $800 million annually.

“This is the first year that this is moving forward. I don’t anticipate it will be happening this year, but there is enough energy and movement that it will happen next year. This is now a national movement. There are congressmen from all over the county pushing for it. It’s looking good.”

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