By Jennifer Grimes
Triplicate staff writer
Large boats are running aground, yachts and tourist vessels are being turned away and boat repairman Dale Long fears his next big project may not make it out of the Crescent City Harbor if the harbor basin and the channel leading out of it is not dredged.
All spell trouble for the flailing Harbor District economy as harbor officials admit they have not been paying attention to detail.
"Dredging has been an issue for seven years. Somebody let the ball drop. This board has failed by not being aware of and not reading the conditions of the (dredging) permit," said Harbor Commissioner Sandie Crockett.
Sand and mud are building up on the floor of the harbor and the channel to the ocean. At some spots at a medium tide, the channel is only seven-feet deep.
The type of vessels Long often repairs require at least 10 feet of water in the channel.
Permits and studies were supposed to be in place by the beginning of April.
But because harbor staff and the commissioners did not complete all of the studies and conditions to get the dredging permit in time, it may be another three months before rapidly accumulating sand is removed.
Long, who owns Fashion Blacksmith, warned the board on April 9 that if the channels to the ocean and his boat lift aren't dredged, there will be bad consequences communitywide.
He is currently bidding on a million-dollar project to fix a large Alaskan crabbing boat.
"If I win that bid, if by the time I finish the job, I can't launch that boat in time for their season, I will most assuredly get sued. If that happens, I will most certainly sue the harbor," Long told the harbor commissioners in a public meeting.
Long leases the building and boat lift he uses from the Harbor District. In the terms of the lease, the harbor agreed to keep the distance between the channel and his lift dredged.
"The sinker lift had not been able to reach its maximum depth for six years until a few months ago," Long said.
Having depth is especially important to Long because 93 percent of his livelihood depends on big boats from larger harbors.
"It keeps beans on the table for the people who work here and it means a lot to the community.
"The people who bring these boats here spend thousands and thousands of dollars while they're here, renting vacation houses and buying local food and flying in and out of here," Long said.
A few months ago, the Harbor District hired a private SCUBA diving company to dredge the area around Long's boat lift.
Just before that dredge day, Long had all but closed down his business, threatening to move out of the community.
Now, he says he is undecided about how long he will keep the business open.
In addition to threatening Long's business, the shallow channel is also frustrating others trying to visit Crescent City. At least five incidents have occurred in the last two weeks as a result of the shallow channel.
On April 10, a 70-foot vessel, the M/V Jamal, asked to enter the harbor. The skipper told maintenance supervisor Alan Tromble that the boat requires a 10-foot draft.
"I told him to enter at his own risk," Tromble said.
The next morning Tromble saw that the Jamal was "stuck in the mud approximately 250 feet from the entrance to the inner boat basin." It took an hour for the tide to roll in enough to free the boat.
Also on April 10, a 40-foot sailing vessel, the Bravo, became lodged in the mud on the channel floor. It was two hours before the tide freed the vessel.
This week, the Lady Washington, a replica of an 18th-century square-rig merchant ship, contacted harbor officials to enter.
Commissioner Bev Noll said the crew of the ship, which draws crowds of tourists up and down the West Coast, was too concerned about the shallow harbor to pull in. Instead, the Lady Washington moved on to Brookings Harbor.
A large yacht, visible yesterday at its anchorage off South Beach, also attempted to enter the harbor this week until its crew realized it was running out of depth and turned back.
The Army Corps of Engineers is mandated by the federal government to dredge this harbor's channel when needed.
Convincing the Corps that a dredge job is needed can be a challenge, according to Rich Taylor, the harbor's chief executive officer.
Using the incident reports of the recently grounded boats as fodder, Tromble implored the Corps to come check the channel.
"The survey crew arrived Friday ... the survey results should be ready as soon as Tuesday and this should give us a very good look at the rate at which our channel is shoaling in and the possibility of the Corps dredging the channel," said Tromble in a report to the Harbor Board.
For a long-term solution, Taylor said he plans to write a letter to the Corps explaining the harbor's plight.
"We've talked about writing a letter to the Corps saying you built these jetties that created the sandtraps and now it needs to be dredged on a regular basis,'" Taylor said.