BoatUS Special Report


Can America Keep Its Waterways Working?

By Ryck Lydecker
Published: August/September 2012

Our nation's maritime infrastructure is suffering from insufficient funding to maintain dredging efforts, protective jetties, ports, and other crucial navigation improvements.

Photo of rebuilding a jetty
It takes car-sized boulders and giant cranes to rebuild a jetty.

The Tillamook County Creamery Association must be the only dairy farmers' cooperative in the country that displays a two-masted schooner under full sail and with "a bone in her teeth" as its advertising logo. There's a good reason cows and canvas go well together in this dramatic reach of Oregon's ocean coast. The settler-farmers of the 1850s, their fertile valley hemmed in on three sides by rugged mountains and vast forests, looked to the ocean to get their goods to market, and so they built a 40-foot schooner to do it.

Like the other river-mouth inlets along this rugged coast, Tillamook Bay's out-flowing waters conflict with ocean tides and currents, leading to a build-up of dangerous shoals made all the more treacherous during Pacific storms. A single 5,400-foot rock jetty built in 1915 on the north side of Tillamook Inlet provided mariners some protection sailing in and out of the Port of Garibaldi until 1979 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built another jetty on the south-side, 5,500 feet long. The twin jetties served two functions, buffering onshore seas to protect the entry, and concentrating harbor outflow to scour a channel. The Pacific Ocean, after all, is unforgiving.

"These jetties take a beating from ocean storms and we've lost over 900 feet of the south jetty since it was built," says Val Folkema, a commissioner with the Port of Garibaldi. "As a result, the Tillamook Bay bar is getting more and more treacherous, and that's a real threat to our recreational and commercial fishing fleets. In the past seven or eight years alone, 17 lives have been lost out there."

For Folkema, it gets personal; her husband Jeff is a commercial crabber who has to navigate the inlet in his 26-foot boat to tend traps five to 10 miles offshore. Their two sons work on the water as well and, as a family, they operate Garibaldi Marina, roughly a mile inside the inlet. Tillamook, in the local Native American tribal language here, means "many waters" for the five rivers that flow into it.

"The big thing about working out of this port is that you can't cross the bar on an ebb tide," says Jeff Folkema. "Tillamook Bay is big and you've got all that water pushing to get out, so if there's any swell on the ocean the waves just jam up at the jaws out there. Say you've got a six-foot swell and a six- or seven-foot outgoing tide," he explains. "You definitely want to mind your Ps and Qs because it's going to jump up to about a 10-foot breaking sea over the bar. On the south jetty, to make it safe, we need them to at least do what they did to the north jetty a few years ago."

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