Nel's New Day

January 16, 2019

Past, Future of a Fishing Village

The Port of Newport in Oregon oversees Yaquina Bay, an area that is home to research ships from NOAA after its Pacific marine operations relocated from Lake Union (WA), the Hatfield Marine Science Center which is operated by Oregon State University, and the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Residents have struggled to keep the water clean for these facilities, however, as businesses have tried to take over in the 21st century.

In 2005, a company from the United Arab Emirates wanted to recycle huge ships in this large bay, commonly known as “ship breaking,” by removing all hazardous wastes and then cutting the ships into pieces that are then sold as scrap metal. These ships were anchored in a California bay because the government no longer needed them. Because of the danger from polluting the bay, the community stopped the venture to keep the Hatfield facility and the Oregon Aquarium safe. Business people were upset with the loss because the ship breaking promised as many as 125 jobs within two years.

Yaquina Bay had been selected for the project because Oregon’s environmental regulations are more lax than those in California. Ships in Newport wouldn’t even be in drydock to destroy invasive species as they are in other areas such as Texas. After sitting in California for another four years, the government sent the ships to Texas for dismantling.

The next proposed venture for the Yaquina Bay came after a bond measure in 2010 with the $28 million restructuring of the Newport International Terminal that would provide about 40 jobs. By 2013, the Port had contracted to bring logs to the small town of Newport, about one truck every 20 minutes on the winding road from Corvallis and down through residential areas to the terminal, so that raw logs could be shipped overseas to China.

Between the time of the passing of the bond for the terminal reconstruction and the Port’s contract to bring logs through Newport, the Port won a bid to become the new home for NOAA’s new Marine Operations Center-Pacific Facility. NOAA built a $38 million facility with a pier long enough for five large ships and arranged for the relocation of at least 175 high-paying jobs to Newport.

Newport residents continued to express concerns about foreign ships bringing invasive species in its ballast, toxic issues from debarking the logs before they were shipped, and threats that large fishing ships could no longer dock at the Newport International Terminal. As many as 15 fishing vessels moor at the terminal at the same time during peak fishing activity November 1 to January 10 and April 1 to May 15 because the port has no other place with shore power and other services for these large vessels. After improvements to the terminal, for example, Fred Yeck brought his 124-foot trawler F/V Sea Dawn back to Newport. With Newport the top commercial fishing port on the West Coast, the industry pours hundreds of millions of dollars into the economy.

The contract for the logging shipments was canceled, but another problem arose in the past few months: conservative legislators from eastern Oregon took on the longshore group’s cause to take local leadership from the Port and put it into the hands of state government. The local newspaper News-Times printed opposing viewpoints about the proposed legislation, HB 2284. Members of the longshore organization wrote about HB 2284 turning Newport into “a vital part of the economic engine for the mid-coastal area” and making promises of “expanded family wage jobs, expanded business growth.”

Robert Smith, owner of the F/V Raven, pointed out that lobbyist for the bill lives in “the valley” (a term for the I-5 corridor 50 miles inland) and may not be aware of the economic activity in the port—NOAA, Hatfield, OSU, Rogue Brewery, the aquarium, and the facility from OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry). As Smith wrote, the marine research, including wave and wind energy development, generates millions of dollars and expected to create hundreds of jobs. He provided much more information about more reasons for preserving local leadership of the Port.

Newport (OR) is well on the way to become the premier research center of the West Coast comparable to Woods Hole. A short-sighted shift to focusing on shipping logs, which takes manufacturing jobs out of the United States, destroys the future of Newport and its potential for more living-wage employment.

As the state battles the question of whether the Port of Newport should lose its local leadership—and possibly its existing marine benefits—go back in time in Sue Hardesty’s history of the Newport International Terminal:

Among the many things I love about living on Oregon’s Yaquina Bay are the bits of history platted about on its edges or used in ways it was never meant to be—for example, the huge ship propeller stationed outside our Pacific Maritime Heritage Center. My interest, however, is not so much in the propeller (although it is beautiful) as it is in the SS CW Pasley ship [below right] to which it was once attached. This ship was named after Sir Charles William Pasley (1780-1861), a British military engineer who wrote textbooks and experimented with improving concrete. McCloskey and Company built the Pasley, one of a fleet of 24 concrete ships, under a wartime emergency program near the end of World War II. The decks and hulls were made entirely of concrete with six-inch-thick walls reinforced with rebar.

The second concrete-hulled vessel purchased by the port was the SS Joseph Aspdin, named for a Brit who received a patent for “Portland” cement made from limestone on the English Channel. The Aspdin is remembered as “the ship that committed suicide.” She broke loose of its moorings in the dark of night, left Yaquina Bay, went aground, and sank

In 1948, the Pasley and the SS Francois Hennebique, named after a French stonemason who pioneered in reinforced concrete, were floated into place to build a wharf at McLean Point on the south side of Yaquina Bay and sunk by blasting holes in their sides and bottoms. Over time the Pasley shifted and rolled toward the bay, and structural failure caused cracks in the hull. Oil leaks polluting the bay finally closed the wharf in 2001.

 

I watched the renovation of the terminal that began in 2010. The Pasley was refloated and dismantled and the Hennebique partially dismantled. Much of the Hennebique hull still remains under the terminal, and I can see the bow on the edge of the tarmac where fishing boats are serviced. The cement from the hulls was ground up and reused as paving material and the metal rebar recycled. The new terminal opened for business in August 2013.

Back in 1942, McCloskey had received a federal contract in 1942 to build the fleet of concrete ships because steel was scarce. All 24 ships were built at an incredible rate of speed, with the first one launched within a month, and named after pioneers in the science and development of concrete. In addition to the ones in Yaquina Bay, two ships were sunk as blockships in the Allied invasion of Normandy, and nine more were sunk as breakwaters for a ferry landing at Kiptopeke, Virginia. Seven are still afloat in a giant breakwater on the Powell River in Canada to protect the logging pond of the Powell River Company pulp and paper mill in BC, Canada.

The future USS Rafael Peralta (DDG 115) is floated from the dock for the first time during its October 2015 christening at Bath Iron Works.

At 420 feet, the SS Peralta is the largest—and oldest—concrete ship afloat and comprises part of the Powell River breakwater with eight other concrete ships that McCloskey built. Originally an oil tanker built during World War I, the Peralta was converted to a sardine cannery in Alaska in 1924. Twenty-four years later, she was taken to Antioch (CA) where she served for another ten years before moving to Canada with nine World War II concrete ships.

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