Safe harbor has been a relative term of late for many of the hundreds of boats that tie up in Bodega Bay to seek refuge from pounding North Coast swells.
Navigation channels used by boats to enter and leave the small port — one of the few available to ocean-going fishermen and pleasure boats north of the Golden Gate — have gradually accumulated wave-washed sediment and runoff over the years. Storms this winter added more mud and debris to the mix as a massive plume of sediment spread south from the mouth of the rain-swollen Russian River.
As a result, deep-hulled craft, including many fishing and sailboats, have been forced to travel in and out of the harbor at high tide to avoid running aground, scrambling regular traffic patterns and threatening access critical for distressed or disabled vessels, according to maritime veterans and officials. Coast Guard operations at the Bodega Bay base also have been hampered.
“It affects everybody,” said seasoned local fisherman Dick Ogg.
Sonoma County officials announced this week that some relief is in on the way for the harbor, where the Army Corps of Engineers now plans to carry out an overdue dredging project this fall. The work, slated to cost about $4.4 million, will remove an estimated 110,000 cubic yards of excess sediment — enough to fill roughly 8,000 dump trucks — that has settled into the harbor since 2004, when the channels were last dredged.
It also will curtail buildup of sediment in side channels, improving access to marinas, wharves and the U.S. Coast Guard Station Bodega Bay, said Peter Mull, project manager for the Army Corps.
The agency is legally responsible for maintaining the harbor’s navigation channel at a depth of 12 feet when the ocean is at the mean level of the lowest low tide of the day.
“But they, quite simply, don’t have enough money to meet that obligation, and they have obligations all around the country,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins. “And quite frankly, smaller harbors like Bodega Bay have taken a back seat to other harbors, because they’re in triage mode.”
She and other county officials credited the lobbying efforts of recently retired Sonoma County Regional Parks Director Caryl Hart, as well as North Coast Rep. Jared Huffman and Mike Thompson with securing the funds for Bodega Harbor. Hart was in Washington at least three times to advocate for the funding priority. Hopkins visited the nation’s capital to speak on its behalf, as well.
“We were very lucky to get this money,” said Hopkins, who represents Bodega Bay, where the local commercial fishing fleet and much of the region’s recreational boating are centered.
Competition for limited federal funds is stiff, and the Army Corps already is two years behind its targeted 11-year cycle for channel maintenance in Bodega Harbor. Dredged five times since 1961, the last project was in 2004.
Since then, the sea and runoff from shore have washed silt, soil and sand into the channel and caused shoaling that makes for ridges and high spots at various points along the way. Heavy rains last winter also likely contributed to the problem, Hopkins and other officials said.