Throughout our history, efforts to create a safe navigation channel for the cost-effective movement of goods from Portland to the Pacific Ocean have shaped our region and economy.
Now 43 feet deep and providing passage for deeper draft, bulk and container vessels, the benefits are apparent to ports and shippers along the entire Columbia Snake river system. Exporters throughout the region are taking advantage of growing Asia markets for grain and other exported products, enhancing the Northwest's role as an international trade gateway.
The Columbia River channel begins at the Columbia River bar and continues five miles upriver at a depth of 55 feet and a width of 2,640 feet. After which, it maintains a depth of 43 feet and a width of 600 feet for 100 miles to the Portland Harbor. The channel passes under the Astoria Bridge, with a vertical clearance of 208 feet and a horizontal clearance of 1070 feet, and the Longview Bridge, with vertical and horizontal clearance of 198 feet and 1085 feet, respectively.
The story of the men, women and machines that shaped the region's trade routes and economic vitality.
The Dredge Oregon has been the Port's workhorse since it was built by Bauer Dredging Company in 1965. The average age of a dredging vessel in the United States is 25 years.
In 2014, the Port replaced three engines in the Dredge Oregon, which reduces diesel particulate emissions by more than 85 percent.
Forty-two Port employees serve as crew on the Dredge Oregon – including those who work on the river and on the shore. During the season – late spring to late fall – the dredge operates 24 hours a day, six days a week. At the end of each dredge season, crew members are either laid off or return to the yard in Portland to work on necessary maintenance and repairs.
Without dredging for the shipping channel, we would be a very different, much smaller city.
As a trade dependent state, our marine highways are critical to our region's continued success. A big part of the success as a trade gateway is attributed to what you might call the most important vessel that nobody sees – the Dredge Oregon.
Dredging is not without controversy due to potential impacts to fish and river ecology. Dredging and placement of dredge material is highly regulated by federal and state agencies.
Have a peek at the 150-year history of maintaining a safe navigation channel from Portland to the Sea.
Early city and state leaders, recognizing the importance of transportation infrastructure in the Portland Harbor, established the Port of Portland in 1891 for the express purpose of dredging the navigation channel from Portland to the sea. They also made investments in roads, railways and runways that positioned the city as an international trade hub. By the mid-1920s Portland had become the region's gateway for the export of wheat, lumber, wool and manufactured goods.
Over the years, the dredging activity that shaped the river bottom to accommodate increasingly larger ships also shaped the region's geography, playing an active role in the physical development of places like Swan Island and Guild's Lake, Oaks Amusement Park, a parking lot at Multnomah Falls, the Columbia River Highway, Portland International Airport and even the Nike campus in Beaverton all sit on fill from dredging activity.
Mt. St Helens erupted in 1980, debris filled the Columbia River navigation channel, reducing its depth to 14 feet in some areas and stopping maritime trade in its tracks. The Dredge Oregon and several other dredges worked day and night to clear the channel. When it was removed – enough to cover a football field to a height of nearly 7 miles.
Portland Mayor Henry Failing authorizes the city’s purchase of its first dredge . The city begins efforts to dredge the Willamette River. The river’s average depth at the time is 12 feet.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers establishes an office in Portland and four years later dredges the navigation channel on the Willamette and Columbia rivers to a depth of 17 feet.
Senator Henry Corbett successfully lobbies for federal funding for dredging projects and a trans-continental railroad line, helping launch Portland as a serious seaport.
The Oregon Legislature establishes the Port of Portland to construct and maintain a 25-foot channel in the Willamette and Columbia rivers. It is the second port authority on the West Coast, after San Francisco.
The City of Portland creates the Commission of Public Docks to develop maritime commerce. Four years later Terminal 1, the first municipal dock, opens. The commission eventually operates four waterfront terminals.
The Port of Portland acquires Swan Island, considered a key site for the development of the inner harbor. Six years later the Port opens the city’s first commercial airport there on a site created with dredged material from the Willamette River.
Needing a larger facility to accommodate ever-increasing sizes of passenger and cargo aircraft, the Port of Portland opens the Portland-Columbia Airport, later renamed Portland International Airport. The facility sits on land created from dredged material.
The Oregon Legislature consolidates the Port of Portland, a public corporation, and the Commission of Public Docks, a city agency.
The eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18 results in one of the largest dredging efforts in the region. The Port of Portland, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and private dredging companies work nonstop to clear the navigation channel on the Columbia River.
Construction of the current depth of the Columbia River navigation channel, 43 feet, is completed. The Willamette River channel remains at 40 feet.
The Port completes the repowering of the Dredge Oregon.