After undergoing a $54 million reconstruction project, Crescent City Harbor has become the first tsunami-resistant port on the West Coast — and quite possibly on the planet, a team effort that will be celebrated during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 1 p.m. Saturday in the marina.
Crescent City Harbor’s recently retired harbormaster/CEO Richard Young surveys the completed work last week. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
“The whole community should be proud of this because it was a community effort that built it,” said Richard Young, former harbormaster/CEO, during a recent tour of the state-of-the-art facility.
Young’s tenure as the harbor district’s lead official throughout the reconstruction project will also be celebrated during Saturday’s ceremony, and the port’s torch will be passed with an introduction to Charlie Helms, the new harbormaster/CEO.
Local government officials as well as representatives of state and federal elected officials will be present to congratulate the harbor district for its monumental completion of one of the finest harbors now in operation on the West Coast.
Crescent City Harbor was first crippled under Young’s watch from the 2006 tsunami that caused $20 million in damage and replacement costs.
Instead of replacing what was destroyed, the marina’s team worked with the state of California to craft a harbor that would withstand the type of tsunami expected once every 50 years. Just weeks before all of the permits for the project were finalized, the harbor was slammed by the March 2011 tsunami, sustaining another $20 million in damage.
“Doing it right takes longer than doing it quickly,” Young said. “If we would’ve designed it quickly, it would have been destroyed in 2011 and we still would not have a finished harbor.”
Early on, port officials decided it was too expensive to build a tidal gate that would close off the harbor and could be called “tsunami-proof.” Nonetheless, the district achieved the construction of a “tsunami-resistant” marina — the world’s first that project designers and contractors are aware of.
“We’ve built over 22 million square feet of docks and this is the very first that is designed for a tsunami event,” said Jesse Ellenz, general manager for the northwest division of Bellingham Marine Industries, the contractor that built the burly docks for the project.
“They’re as stout as anything we’ve ever built,” Ellenz said, adding that Crescent City’s docks are packed with much more rebar and concrete in order to be able to withstand higher loads than almost any marina.
The docks were built to be able to transfer the energy from a tsunami to the dock, then to the pile hoop to the connected steel piling and finally to mother Earth without any damage.
“They were built for the tsunami, but they are also just going to add to the lifespan of the marina,” said Ellenz, who appreciated working on a small-town port actually used by a commercial fleet as opposed to some of the high-priced, yacht-packed recreational ports he has done. “We built them tough for the tough people that are using them.”
H Dock, the first dock encountered as a tsunami enters the harbor, is called the port’s wave attenuator, because at 16 feet wide and 8 feet deep, it is designed to take the brunt of a tsunami’s energy.
In addition to strong docks, Crescent City Harbor’s new design includes 244 steel pilings, which at 30 inches in diameter are twice the size of the old ones.
The 70-foot-long pilings were each installed at least 30 feet into the bedrock, a process that created delays when two separate quarter-million dollar drill bits completely broke down during drilling, putting the project far behind schedule in 2012.
Dutra Construction, the lead contractor behind the reconstruction, successfully put the project back on schedule in 2013 and finished on time.
Salty locals often lament that Crescent City’s commercial fishing industry is nothing like it used to be — not taking into account that Crescent City has the highest commercial value of seafood in California north of Monterey.
Crescent City Harbor is the top producer of Dungeness crab in all of California, with more than a third of the state’s catch landed here on average.
“It’s not just for the harbor district. It’s what helps define Crescent City. People lose sight of just how important the harbor is,” Young said. “We’re here with a harbor that’s going to provide the basis to keep these fishing jobs here.”