USCG: Morgan Bar off the table for dredge spoils placement

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: MARK MILLER - The beach behind Julie Holmason's house off Northwest Gillihan Road on Sauvie Island looks out onto the Morgan Bar reach of the Columbia River. The U.S. Coast Guard sought to use Morgan Bar as a dumping site for dredge spoils, but it now says it will not do so after a meeting at which neighbors objected to the plan.Amid vocal opposition from residents, the U.S. Coast Guard is backing off plans to dump dredge spoils from an environmentally contaminated site in Portland off the shore of Sauvie Island.

The Coast Guard wants to conduct “maintenance dredging” of its berth for the USCGC Bluebell at its Marine Safety Unit in the Swan Island Lagoon, located within the Portland Harbor Superfund site. It applied for permits with the Oregon Department of State Lands and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which sent out public notices in May to people living near Morgan Bar, a reach of the Columbia River just a few hundred feet from a populated part of Sauvie Island.

But now the Coast Guard says it will withdraw its permit application and look at alternatives to Morgan Bar as a dumping ground for the dredge spoils.

“The Coast Guard is pursuing upland disposal for the dredged materials at MSU Portland,” a notice sent to residents last week stated in part. “Using the Morgan Bar placement site is no longer being considered.”

A Corps spokeswoman also confirmed that the Coast Guard is “temporarily withdrawing” its permit application, and a DSL spokeswoman said the Coast Guard has informed the department of its intent to revise its permit application and deposit the spoils in a landfill instead of in the river.

Some residents, such as Julie Holmason, had expressed concern that dredge materials dumped at Morgan Bar could wash up on Sauvie Island’s beaches or make their way to Sturgeon Lake, posing a threat to humans and wildlife.

While the Corps said regulators tested the sediments to be dredged and determined they were “suitable for in-water placement,” and the Coast Guard said only sediments would be dumped at Morgan Bar and any debris would be disposed of in a landfill, the decision not to deposit the spoils offshore from her house has Holmason happy.

“It’s a load off not to worry about this anymore,” said Holmason.

Holmason said she attended a meeting with Coast Guard and Corps representatives on Sauvie Island early last month and came away with the impression that she and her neighbors were successful in getting them to reconsider their plans.

“They didn’t know a lot of the things that we brought up. And after that meeting, they said we’re going back to the drawing board,” Holmason said.

Chief Petty Officer David Mosley, a Coast Guard spokesman, confirmed the meeting led to the project being reevaluated and the plans to dump at Morgan Bar being dropped.

“There was some concerns noted by the local residents of Sauvie Island when we went down there and met with them,” he said, adding, “We’re grateful for their understanding and involvement, and their time spent with us to help us have a better understanding of their concerns when it came to the project.”

Due to the change in plans, the timetable for the dredging work has been pushed back to next summer, Mosley said.

“They listened,” Holmason concluded. “And that was really good.”