Dredging benefits tribe, rescue vessels

The Makah Tribe is making it easier for a Neah Bay-based response vessel to help distressed or disabled boats in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

In partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the entrance to Neah Bay was dredged this winter to deepen and widen the bay’s channel, allowing for the state Department of Ecology’s emergency response towing vessel (ERTV) to more easily respond, said Carol Reamer, director of the Port of Neah Bay.

Prior to dredging, the ERTV, which is moored in the Makah Marina, had to anchor outside the bay during extreme low tides, as the channel was too shallow for the vessel to exit the marina when there was a call for help.

The draft of the rescue vessel—the vertical distance between the waterline and the hull—is 16 feet. Prior to dredging, the shallowest part of the channel was about 17 feet below the mean lower low water level (MLLW), which is the average level of the lowest tide. After dredging, the channel is now at -21 feet MLLW or deeper throughout, allowing for ocean-going tugs, barges and larger ships to enter the bay.

Carol Reamer, Port of Neah Bay director, explains the geography of Neah Bay with the dredging barge in the distance. Photo: Tiffany Royal

There are financial and environmental benefits to this work, as the ERTV will not need to spend money on fuel just to motor outside of the bay at every minus or low tide, saving an estimated $81,000 annually in fuel, Reamer said.

“I think it can have a positive economic impact for the Makah Tribe for deeper-drafted vessels to be able to come in,” Reamer said. There could be small cruise ships that make a port call at Neah Bay, or sailors who want to anchor in the bay and taxi to shore and recreate in the area. It also can allow for commercial fishing vessels that pass by Neah Bay to come into port before heading out to open waters or wait out storms on the strait.

“This project has been a long collaborative partnership with the Corps of Engineers, and we’re thrilled to see these improvements enhance the protection of the valuable Neah Bay ecosystem and improve safety for larger commercial and fishing vessels that enter the port,” said Timothy “TJ” Greene Sr., Makah tribal chairman.

The ERTV responds to a variety of vessels entering the Strait of Juan de Fuca that wind up disabled or distressed, including container ships, passenger cruises, oil tankers and fishing vessels. Its primary purpose is to help prevent vessels from running aground and spilling oil, protecting the region’s shorelines. Between 1972 and 1991, there were three oil spills in Neah Bay. The tugboat has been called out more than 90 times for disabled or distressed vessels since the program was implemented in 1999.

The $3.3 million project, including $546,000 from the tribe, started in October 2023 and finished in February. The sediment from the channel was removed with a hydraulic pipeline and used to fortify a nearby beach that needed shoreline restoration, Reamer said.

The dredging barge works in Neah Bay. Provided by Port of Neah Bay. Story: Tiffany Royal