February 18, 2021 — Already regarded as one of the most popular destinations on the Oregon coast for recreational boating, fishing, and RVing (not to mention a substantial commercial fishing fleet), the Port of Brookings Harbor will be undergoing “port-altering” changes over the next few years that will see its popularity soar even higher. With a well-thought-out strategic plan, a FEMA project grant, and State and County partners, Port Manager Gary Dehlinger and his team, along with their five-member Port Commission have prioritized a number of projects that will not only improve current infrastructure but will position the Port for expansion well into the future. With a career as a project engineer in Southern California before taking on the role of Port Manager for the past five years, Dehlinger is well-suited to see the initiatives come to fruition.
Situated at the mouth of the Chetco River, just north of the California/Oregon border, the Port of Brookings Harbor can trace its roots back to the turn of the 20th century when the Brookings Lumber and Box Company built the town around its lumber manufacturing plant and shallow-water harbor. Fast forward 100 years and lumber has been replaced by a robust commercial fishing industry along with a 520-slip marina, a sizeable RV Park, over 30 retail shops and restaurants, and storage and receiving-dock leases.
Through the 2010s, the Port saw more than its share of natural disasters. Having just recovered from a tsunami in 2011, the Chetco Bar Fire in 2017 burned over 191,000 acres of surrounding land, leaving loose soil on the slopes. Two subsequent rain events in 2019 made short work of the slopes and brought down about 40,000 cubic yards of sediment. “The events were declared disasters and we were able to access FEMA funding to assist with dredging, reconstruction and repair,” said Dehlinger, adding that additional grants, loans, and partnerships round out funding solutions that will allow the Port to implement an ambitious action plan that will see significant improvements to the marina and RV park as well as a new wastewater treatment plant, new stormwater drainage, paving, and more.
As noted above, the Port of Brookings Harbor focuses on four main activities – a commercial fishery (with a state-of-the-art fish processing plant), a recreational marina, an RV Park, and a retail centre. While the retail sector has struggled during COVID-19 restrictions, Dehlinger noted that they were, for the most part, holding their own. “It’s been a challenge but, with the exception of a couple of losses, they have been surviving,” he said, adding that the commercial fishing industry has also taken a hit.
On the flip side, the Port has seen a boom in recreational boating and RV activity during COVID. “In 2020, we recorded the most launches we’ve ever had at the marina and, following a month or two of closures last spring, saw a huge influx of people travelling by RV,” Dehlinger said. And with a “Clean Marina” designation from the Oregon State Marine Board, the Port’s best management practices, contingency plans for spills, two pump-out stations and a catch basin provide the assurance for tenants that the Port of Brookings Harbor is dedicated to an environmentally sustainable operation.
Just in time for the 2021 spring boating season, the Port has almost completed work on its fuel dock with the replacement and restoration of the access pad as well as repairs to the transient and work dock. In addition, the Port will soon start on improvements to the RV Park facility, including a refurbished restroom, upgrades to the electrical system to meet the needs of bigger rigs, and six to eight new, premium oceanfront sites.
Other initiatives already in the planning and permitting stages are keeping the team busy. Through the FEMA project grant, the Port is working on repair and reconstruction of the west, south and east embankments and are also planning on purchasing a small dredge to accommodate dredging Basins 1 and 2. With 20-, 30-, and 40-foot slips available, Dehlinger noted that they are not expecting an increase in the size of vessels at the marina but rather, will be maintaining their 14-foot draft to continue to allow vessels with a 12-foot draft easy access. Dehlinger expects to start working on these projects by the Winter of 2022 with a three-year time frame for completion.
On the horizon
With the most urgent projects for the Port already in various stages of implementation, Dehlinger and the Port Commission have outlined an action plan that spans over the next decade. In the short term (one to five years), the Port is working through the permit approval process and funding requirements for a new wastewater treatment plant. “The priority will be for the plant to service the marina but, depending on the budget and funding plans, we would like to extend it to the whole town of Harbor, tying it in with our processing plant,” said Dehlinger, adding that the process has a significant number of required regulations that will take time to work through.
Other high priorities for the Port include improvements to stormwater drainage as well as paving of the commercial storage area, parking areas, and areas of the RV Park. The Port is also working with Curry County officials to put in a sidewalk that lines Harbor Road as well as the addition of roundabouts to improve traffic flow. “These projects will change the look of the port pretty drastically,” he said. “By creating drainage and asphalt surfaces that allow for building-ready surfaces, we’ll be putting the Port in good stead for future expansion.”
Looking further out to the five-to-10-year-and-beyond timeframe, plans include a third retail/professional building, expansion of the boardwalk, additional self-storage buildings as well as new public amenities, an upgraded boat yard and even more improvements to the RV Park.
“Our goal is to continually develop the port to be able to accommodate growth,” said Dehlinger. “Brookings Harbor enjoys a healthy commercial fishing sector and a great reputation for recreational fishing events as well as being a premier destination for tourists coming by boat or RV. We see great potential in developing these sectors even further.”
We here at the APP agree.