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Corps of engineers installs jetty gate

Posted: Wednesday, Apr 27th, 2011

Surfrider Foundation lodges objections

Two heavy posts with a stout cable padlocked between them now keep folks with vehicles from accessing Yaquina Bay’s south jetty.

A contractor for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Portland Division, installed the gate Tuesday at about the jetty’s midpoint, despite objections from members of the Surfrider Foundation.

Surfrider’s Oregon field manager, Charlie Plybon, sent a request Monday to the corps, asking them to delay the action to consider “more responsible solutions to the cited reasons for closure.” Plybon sent a five-page memo about what he and others in Surfrider consider “a unilateral decision” adversely affecting the public’s ability to access the beach and valuable recreational areas “with no consideration of the implications of those actions on a local level.”

Plybon noted, “While many of our members and ocean users understand the hazards and risks associated with jetty structures, it is of particular concern that there was absolutely no public process or opportunity to find reasonable compromises or alternative solutions.”

Last Thursday, Portland District’s Public Affairs Specialist Michelle Helms told the News-Times that the corps builds and maintains Oregon’s coastal jetties, and during a tour of Yaquina Bay’s jetties, the corps’ project manager “noticed a need to protect their structural integrity.”

“Coastal jetties are not designed for recreational use and pose many dangers to vehicles and pedestrians,” Helms noted. Sinkholes, which corps engineers say vehicle traffic only worsens, have appeared on the jetty lately, and while the dirt path on top appears solid, “it could give way at any point.”

They installed the gate to “further protect the structure,” Helms added.

Plybon disagreed with the corps’ core assertions about the jetty structural integrity and public safety. “A cable is not a solution to either of these problems,” he stated.

The jetty is designed to withstand heavy ocean conditions, and by that standard, it’s “more than capable” of holding up under foot and vehicle traffic. Sinkholes, Plybon pointed out, most likely result from a seaward erosion of sand, or dredging and inlet erosion.

“Sinkholes are a function of erosion beneath the surface, not from vehicle traffic on the surface,” he wrote.

As for the public safety aspect, Plybon argued that outreach and education offer a much more reasonable approach that they could do through partnerships among the USACE, Surfrider, and the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD), without the controversy.

Plybon also indicated how the gate would restrict access by emergency vehicles, creating “slower response time to beach and ocean emergencies.”

Helms said corps representatives contacted the U.S. Coast Guard, Newport City Council, Lincoln County Commissioners, and other agencies and organizations that need access to the area on the south jetty to inform them about the gate. They also wanted to generate public awareness of the project, and why corps officials deem it necessary.

Plybon acknowledged that jetties are not intended for recreational use - the warning signs posted near the new gate attest to that, including one that clearly states, “Jetty structure not for public use. Proceed at your own risk.” But he noted that the south jetty has a long history of recreational use - diving, fishing, surfing, beach access, and more. In fact, in a statewide study of recreational ocean uses, a survey identified the south jetty as one of the top areas in the state for recreational uses.

“The jetty access offers one of the only car-to-beach accessible areas in Newport, other than Nye Beach,” Plybon stated. “It is the only area in Newport for ADA accessible recreational fishing outside of the bay.”

The Surfrider field man also raised some legal concerns, noting “various state and federal laws” - among them, the Coastal Zone Management Act and the public trust doctrine governing public rights to shoreline access - that “provide grounds to challenge” the gate installation. Plybon asked them to delay the action for at least 30 days to give the local community and other ocean users a chance to provide comment and offer alternatives.

Instead, the project moved ahead as planned.

Helms said Tuesday afternoon that the installation went without a hitch, and the project manager had discussed the reasons with Plybon and other Surfrider members. “We want to get the message across that it’s a dangerous place to walk and recreate,” she noted.

Attempts to contact Plybon prior to deadline were unsuccessful.

Terry Dillman is the assistant editor of the News-Times. Contact him at 541-265-8571, ext 225, or terrydillman@newportnewstimes.com.

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