Clare Conlan, master of the North Willapa Harbor Grange in Grayland, is raising money to protect the North Cove area from erosion by selling t-shirts that read, “Washaway Beach no more!”
That nickname for North Cove has stuck, and created an attitude from outside the area that there is nothing that can be done to stop the accelerated shoreline erosion that continues to eat up about 140 feet of shoreline a year, according to Pacific County Drainage District Commission Chairman David Cottrell.
Millions of dollars have been spent and engineers have tried a number of fixes over the years, but Conlan and some other locals are now putting their faith in a method known as “dynamic revetment” and they are trying to get the attention of government decision makers that could help with funding and permits. Dynamic reveetment entails the use of cobble along the shoreline. This use of small rocks mixed with larger rocks is designed to break up the impact of waves on otherwise sandy beaches, explained Cottrell.
“When the waves hit it you can hear the rocks settling. It’s louder than the wave itself,” he said. Cobble is a term generally used to describe rocks that are larger than a pebble and smaller than a boulder, usually between 2.5 and 10.25 inches in diameter.
The rocks are arranged along the existing shoreline at an angle that allows the rocks to absorb the impact of a wave while protecting the shoreline. Cottrell has been working for many years to find a solution to the problem, and just recently stumbled onto the notion of dynamic revetment, which has been used with great success on beaches in Oregon and California.
Large sections of the beach in the North Cove area have already benefited from dynamic revetment. The entire stretch from just north of the Shoalwater Indian Reservation north to Tamarack Street, a mile or two north of old State Route 105, has been done.
“Last winter the Drainage District received a grant of $50,000 through the Pacific County Conservation District to build 300 feet of buried riprap revetment, and later we administered another $50,000 grant for a nearby homeowner to extend the project,” said Cottrell. “During the project we became aware of some of the advantages of dynamic revetment, and we incorporated dynamic cobble into both projects. This winter we’d hoped to get more Conservation District funding for the expanded project, but all that funding has been held up indefinitely while the Legislature debates the capital budget.” The State Department of Transportation funded the $12,500 matching fund requirement for the grant.
When it became clear there wouldn’t be funding in time for this year’s storm season, Pacific County Conservation District Manager Mike Nordin approached the Pacific County Marine Resource Committee and secured $10,000 to shore up the worst erosion area.
“The Grange got involved last year helping the Drainage District raise the 10 percent match for the Conservation Grant from local donors,” said Cottrell. “They have gone on to help us fund some construction and recently to take on small projects of their own. As a (nonprofit) organization they are well set up to receive small local donations from people and organizations within the community and distribute the proceeds where they will do the most good.” Conlan said the Grange has raised around $9,000 to date, all of which has been distributed. The local arts community has gotten involved as well, taking pieces of the cobble that protect the shoreline and painting them with custom messages from donors.
A section of 105 near the Shoalwater Indian reservation was done earlier this year by the State Department of Transportation. That project used trenches, natural and man made berms, and rock to shore up the shoreline, where high tides and storms can cause flooding and damage to the road.
The cost of the rock used to create the protective layer varies depending on how it is delivered to the needed spots, said Cottrell. “It costs about $10 a foot if they can just drive the truck to the edge of the bank and dump it over,” he said. That cost goes up to $20 if other equipment is needed to deliver the rock.
There is still a great deal of work to do to protect properties in the North Cove area, but securing funding is difficult, said Cottrell.
“We recognize that our small local efforts won’t be enough to protect the community during a big storm event like Columbus Day 1962 or December 2007,” said Cottrell. “We’ve talked with the Army Corps of Engineers about this. They’ve referred us to their CAP Section 103 (the River and Harbor Act of 1962) which funds protecting shores against hurricanes and storm damage. The administrative and match cost is way too rich for the Drainage District, but at least as of last summer Pacific County was looking into it.”
The Corps is scheduled to do maintenance on the Shoalwater Reservation berm in the summer of 2018, and Cottrell was hopeful they could also fund some additional work outside the reservation. Whether they will or not is still up in the air.
“If we knew whether assistance was likely to be coming or not we could make better decisions with the resources we have this winter,” said Cottrell.
The economics of Pacific County make it difficult to meet the requirements, said Cottrell. “With the possible exception of the Conservation District I don’t know of any agency in Pacific County that has the resources to put in to chasing grants,” he said. “It’s a catch-22.”
The economic impact of the erosion, and the future impact if erosion continued unchecked, is staggering. Dr. Kevin Decker, Coastal Outreach Specialist with the Washington Sea Grant, did a study that showed erosion would cut North Cove in half by 2040 and more or less wipe it off the map by 2060. The study showed that 33 single family residences totaling just under 72 acres have been lost to erosion. That is a total property loss of about $4 million, and when you add in vacation homes and other properties it comes to more than $20 million. The study projected an additional 499 parcels, just under 550 acres, would erode by 2060. Between 2020 and 2060, that would include 213 single family residences.
Because of the erosion threat, many property owners in the area are unable to insure their homes. And the impact the erosion has had on property taxes is significant. As parcels are lost, the tax liability is redistributed to the remaining population. Decker’s study said if erosion continues at its current rate, more than $400,000 in taxes will be redistributed.
Cottrell said he recalls going to potlucks at North Willapa Harbor Grange when it was located along with the bulk of the town on a spit that no longer exists. In the early 60s the ocean swallowed the town, including the Grange, a post office, the school and clam cannery. Cottrell said there is some indication that spit may be trying to reform, which would also help with the rampant erosion.
The banks along North Cove are particularly sketchy because the land slowly declines in elevation from the top of the bank. That means any water that goes over runs right into the town. Cottrell, fourth generation cranberry farmer, said if saltwater gets into the bogs the crops would quickly die.
The people of North Cove are not only trying to preserve their way of life, they are also trying to preserve the history of the town. North Cove was a thriving town in the late 1800s, where it served as a major hub for people traveling from the south attempting to access the Olympic Peninsula and Puget Sound regions.
“People would take a steamer here to grab a stagecoach, which would take them north,” said Cottrell.
Homeowners in the area have become pretty creative in protecting their shorelines. Large piles of driftwood can be seen on the beach. “They see a big piece drifting by and they’ll go out and secure it with a rope until they can place it,” said Cottrell. One many was cutting the trees down on his property and using them to build a wood bulkhead to protect his property. One home stands along on its own peninsula, created by the homeowners spending years placing large boulders around the edges of the property.
The old Avalon shipwreck has also become a part of North Cove’s shoreline defenses. In one high tide earlier this year, the wreck moved south a solid half mile, threatening the outlet of the cranberry bog irrigation channel and its floodgates. As it neared the outlet, Cottrell and others placed a large boulder at the bow of the wreck, and it nestled in with the rock and wood protecting the shoreline.
The Grange is a nonprofit organization, and donations can be made to them at their meetings the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month at 7:35 p.m. The hall is located at 3198 State Route 105 in Grayland.