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When the ferry quits, dredging begins at Keystone Harbor

A crane scoops up sediment from the bottom of Keystone Harbor near the ferry dock. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in the process of restoring a 25-foot depth at the harbor. - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
A crane scoops up sediment from the bottom of Keystone Harbor near the ferry dock. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in the process of restoring a 25-foot depth at the harbor.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

Keystone Harbor has been a flurry of activity when the ferry is out of service.

A large, floating crane and barge have been spending their nights dredging the area to make it deeper for state ferries to navigate.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is paying Tacoma’s American Construction Company $806,000 to remove 30,000-to-50,000 cubic yards of sediment that drifted onto the harbor floor in recent years.

Bill Dowell, spokesman for the Corps of Engineers, said the crew has been removing between 900 and 1,100 cubic yards of sediment each night. Depending on the weather and the amount of sediment that has accumulated on the harbor floor, work should wrap up on the project sometime in the middle of January.

Dredging has taken place in the evening after the last voyage of the Salish, which serves the Port Townsend-to-Coupeville ferry route that crosses  Admiralty Inlet.

“We don’t have want to have any interruption,” Dowell said of the nighttime work. The work will restore the harbor’s depth to 25-feet and help improve the conditions for ferries.

Strong currents combined with the shallow depth has at times made Keystone Harbor a treacherous trip for ferry operators. Washington State Ferries only has one class of ferry that is capable of navigating in and out of Keystone Harbor. The new  Kwa-di Tabil class ferries’ predecessor, the 80-year-old Steel Electrics, sometimes ran aground while traveling through the small harbor channel. Tidal and weather conditions routinely cause trip cancellations on the ferry route.

Marta Coursey, spokeswoman for Washington State Ferries, said multiple factors contribute to canceled sailings out of Keystone. While the depth of the harbor is one challenge, high-speed cross winds and tidal conditions will continue to affect sailings on a regular basis, she said.

The Corps of Engineers found a use for the muck  workers collected from the bottom of Keystone Harbor. Every morning, the barge is towed to the nearby bay at Fort Casey State Park. The sediment is being used to “renourish” the beach, parts of which have been eroding in recent years.

 

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