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    Coast Guard protects local economy from maritime disasters



    Story by Petty Officer 3rd Class Trevor Lilburn 

    U.S. Coast Guard District 13

    The Pacific Northwest coast is home to some of the world’s most ferocious weather. Which is why Coast Guard first-responders stand ever-ready to assist mariners in distress; however, these elite service members don’t just protect life, property, and the environment; they also secure the local economy.
    Washington and Oregon account for hundreds of waterways, but 12 ports in particular harbor especially hazardous sand bars; places where the deep waters of the ocean meet the shallower waters near the mouth of a river. The Coast Guard monitors and patrols these coastal sand bars; keeping commercial vessels and recreational boaters safe. They may issue restrictions to certain vessels or even close down a bar completely, which can severely effect local economies.
    The Columbia River Bar alone is the gateway to a 1,200-mile river, passage to inland ports and over $24 billion in annual trade.
    “I feel like the public really needs to understand how hazardous the bar can be,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class John Kopp, a surfman and qualified motor life boat coxswain at Station Cape Disappointment in Ilwaco, Washington.
    “You have the largest river on the West Coast draining all the water from an area the size of France,” said Kopp. “That water deposits tons of sediment right at the mouth of the river, making it very shallow. The sand is constantly shifting with the tides. Then you introduce these big waves which originate thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean. Imagine this swirling energy, hidden beneath the surface, sometimes hundreds of feet down. It’s unpredictable. It’s in this narrow place, where the river meats the sea, that these waves slow down, stand up and explode into surf. It’s incredibly dangerous.”
    Despite the danger, it is imperative to the strength of the region’s economy that the bar remain navigable.
    “It’s a daunting task,” said Capt. Jeremy Smith, the Sector Columbia River Commander and also Captain of the Port for Southern Washington and the entire State of Oregon. “It takes an immense amount of resources and we work with several other entities to keep vessels transiting safely.”
    The Coast Guard operates stations up and down the Washington and Oregon coasts and the service members stationed here conduct daily operations to keep vessel traffic moving safely. They also check the bar conditions at first light and report those conditions to the public.
    As a result of those conditions, sometimes limits are set on the type and size of vessels authorized to cross a bar.
    Broadcasts on the bar conditions go out in several ways to reach a wide range of mariners. Messages are sent out over VHF radio, boaters can even call in to request a bar report. Sometimes the public will be notified of closures by phone call.
    Visual warning signs are posted in the vicinity of Coast Guard stations or near harbors, ports and boat ramps. These help give a clear indication for recreational boaters who might not be aware of broadcast warnings, and there is a website operated by The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which gives real-time bar reports and updates.
    The Coast Guard continues to monitor bar traffic all day with watchtowers, both manned and monitored remotely. By utilizing tools like radar detectors, video cameras, telescopes, binoculars, infrared, night vision and the naked eye, members can make sure that all movement in and out of a port is accounted for.
    The Coast Guard also operates a massive aids to navigation service, which regulates, among other things, all the buoys and markers in the channels. Without it, the ability of a commercial ship to stay in the minimum safe depth of water would be severely hobbled.
    In some narrow stretches, the sand must be dredged so that safe channels can be rendered and marked for transit.
    Recently, the sand accumulating in Depoe Bay, which has not been dredged since 2014, reached a point where it was endangering access to moorage and the fuel pier. The US Army Corp of Engineers has been allocated funds to schedule dredging operations in spring.
    On top of all the monitoring, the Coast Guard also offers escorts upon request. This would give unsure boaters or even experienced commercial fisherman the best possible chance to crossing a bar safely.
    However, when the weather turns particularly bad, the coast guard will restrict movement to only a few types of vessel. Even to the point of shutting down all traffic in or out of a port.
    “Historically, a couple times a year conditions on a bar, and the Columbia River bar in particular, just become too dangerous,” said Smith, who is also the only official in Southern Washington and the entire state of Oregon with the federal authority to completely close down a river or waterway. “Closing down a bar to crossing is always a tough decision and can have far reaching economic consequences. But it must be done periodically, to ensure the safety of lives and the maritime environment.”
    A resilient Marine Transportation System is imperative to the economic prosperity of the Pacific Northwest. Coast Guard service members will continue to stand the watch in Washington and Oregon to save lives, protect property, safeguard the environment and protect our local maritime commerce.



    Date Taken: 12.17.2018
    Date Posted: 12.18.2018 18:20
    Story ID: 304003
    Location: ASTORIA, OR, US 

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