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TONGUE POINT BASIN CONSIDERATIONS

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As professional and scientific expertise begins to consider more carefully the economic imperative of exploiting the harbor at the mouth of the Columbia river, for its natural potential as a host to a deep-water international cargo-container facility, one of the alternatives suggested, is for development within the TONGUE POINT BASIN (TPB), at the eastern end of the Astoria Waterfront. This historic mooring has served as a U.S. Naval Air Station mooring, and as a Coast Guard facility. It is on the existing PNW RR line, near the main shipping channel, and would appear to have some advantages over Smith Point, for development as a deep-water port capable of serving container vessels running international cargo.

THESE BRIEF NOTES probe a little more closely into the potential upside and downside of proposing that a regional deep-water shipping hub at Astoria, should be situated at Tongue Point Basin.

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TONGUE POINT BASIN CONSIDERATIONS

  1. 1. TONGUE POINT BASIN CONSIDERATIONS Roch Steinbach 6-27-16 After being knocked out by some recent research discussing the possibilities for reviving the PNW RR to Tongue Point, with the assumed objective being, that a commercial port at Tongue Point Basin (TPB) is viable and more desirable than reviving and upgrading the original Smith Point Terminal facility, as I have suggested, I’m here offering these overview considerations, relative to the feasibility of a commercial cargo facility at TPB. On the Tongue Point Basin berths, there are approximately six berths it looks like. Specs, such as they are, are here, scroll down: http://www.portofastoria.com/Tongue_Point_General_Information.aspx Counting berths not piers or docks, it looks like six with possibly a smaller one on the North end -- and another potential on the south, if someone gets really busy with a dredge. In length and breadth they are comparable to the Smith Point Terminal berths I’ve emphasized: approx. 1200 feet long and maybe 500-600 ft, wide – so fully adequate in dimension to handle the largest container carrier. The picture below documents this, with a full-size (probably HANJIN) container vessel in the main shipping channel, or probably anchored off it, near Tongue Point One concern is the dimensions of the existing piers, as opposed to the berths: the piers are wooden tie-up piers, docks, really, for mooring only. And of course as they stand, they are not serviceable as container piers. I’m presuming they were constructed for the NAS usage during the WWII,; but in my reading, I know I’ve never found that the TPB ever served to host commercial piers. One might ask, why not? I believe the mariners and engineers who situated Port of Astoria facilities at Smith Point, had the advantage of a working knowledge of the harbor, when they selected and developed this site. The fact that the Port of Astoria boomed for 20-30 years after the Smith Point Terminal piers were constructed is a factor of economic history that has to be taken into consideration, I think. One thing to consider, for instance, is that the TPB is oriented on the river like a “catchment” pointed upriver, and so it is going to receive an unending delivery of silt from upriver, with no “clean-out” outlet, so it will require pretty regular maintenance dredging. Dredging will be not just an initial cost, but an ongoing one, at any Tongue Point facility….
  2. 2. TO GET INTO COMERCIAL PRODCUTION, THREE OF THESE FILL BERTHS will need to be completely constructed to create the square footage area for the erection and operation of container cranes, presumably automated ones, since 9/10ths of being competitive is having the latest gear. These piers will have to be at least of the dimensions of the existing piers at Smith Point. By my view, this leaves three, maybe four, ship berths remaining. I would suggest that the three piers to be constructed, should definitely be laid out on a diagonal plan, opening much more to the NE, than as the existing moorage piers are positioned, running a little north of due East. That way, vessels can “angle in” and “angle out” and not be forced to cut a hairpin 180 to moor. So the layout should look like this: , instead of as is : || || || as in the picture above. This would streamline docking, and increase efficiency. I see that the area behind (and west of) the TPB buildings (near the bottom of this aerial photo) is served by a PNW siding: it appears the tracks may be up, and grade only remains. EITHER WAY one question is: can secondary sidings or spurs be run out towards the piers off this existing siding? Here my question centers around the angle at which a spur would have to veer, to run off the existing siding/grade in order to properly serve whatever pier would be constructed…. (There is of course a lower limit to the turn radius of a string of rail cars, although single cars can often manage tight turns, I believe.) If we are contemplating rail-shipment to Portland with a terminal at Tongue Point, the spurs referenced above, can better serve the three newly filled piers, if the entire development is angled NE: . This is a question concerning ultimate economic viability of the TPB proposal, if railcars might be obliged to move at only a reduced speed, in order to accommodate tight turn radii on these spurs: capacity in terms of the number of railcars/containers per day could be affected. Can they move fast enough? The question arises whether TPB would be a 19th C. facility trying to compete in the 21st C.
  3. 3. This picture may help to illustrate the considerations mentioned. The two container vessels shown at upper left, are anchored in Coast Guard designated anchorages, off the main shipping channel. Tongue Point obviously is near the center of the photo and the TPB with its six piers opening ENE are toward the right. The piers in this image are outlined with a red perimeter drawn along the waterfront by Google – so they look far more substantial than they should at this altitude. IN fact one of them is not outlined, and is nearly invisible at this altitude. The large container cargo vessels do not turn easily, and so will have to be maneuvered upriver and then back, or turned very slowly, in order to bring them around Tongue Point and back down into the TPB. With this in mind, we can further see the desirability – actually, the necessity -- of angling new solid-state piers much more to the NE, so that their angle more approximates the angle of the back of Tongue Point itself, and the new shipping channel runs more or less parallel to it. This will streamline the maneuvers that container vessels must make to get into TPB. We can also see plainly the real concerns referenced regarding the infiltration and catchment of silt in this area. For instance, MOTT ISLAND immediately upriver from the TPB, is a product of such siltation, and in fact lies in the TPB itself. It will have to be largely removed, certainly if new piers are not re-oriented as suggested. Elsewhere upriver in this area (called the Cathlamet Basin on many old maps), the effects of siltng are manifest in various marshy islands, much of it wildfowl habitat. While I believe this TPB area is appropriate for future development of the Port of Astoria, is it really the place to start? And after these three piers are constructed, where will the facility expand, if it is successful? The physical, hydrological and logistical limitations suggest that TPB may be a quick approach to a dead-end port facility. COMPARE HOWEVER, the location and orientation of the existing piers at Smith Point, not only directly on the shipping channel, but also perfectly, even ideally oriented almost as extension of the Tansy Point “Reach” of river navigation…
  4. 4. BY CONTRAST, the existing original Astoria waterfront reclamation through the construction of these three still monstrous piers, demonstrates the results of working – not speculative -- insights that appeared to be self-evident to mariners a century ago: the shipping channel runs directly along the Astoria waterfront, and to realize the greatest economic efficiencies, one need only create an accommodation for vessels that are ALEADY THERE. At Smith Point. Every vessel of any commercial consequence, that enter the Columbia River, passes this point, no matter where else they are headed. This, and not overpaid management and a controlled municipal media, and a wastrel federal dredging project, 100 miles long, caused Astoria to boom. See, ASTORIA ONLY PART I . Compare, for instance, the likely cost of dredging the downriver (left) side of Pier 3, at Smith Point, above, to bring all three pies into full operation, with the cost of building three entirely new piers at TPB, and dredging anywhere and everywhere around there, partially removing Mott island, etc., in order to reach the same starting point. Also consider, that after three piers are built at TPB, there is no place to expand to without construction of another completely new facility. Meanwhile, at Smith Point, the three existing piers are large enough to accommodate automated container cranes, have shown to be viably linked by rail, and served by sidings, and furthermore there is around Smith Point, room for expansion for another four piers, bringing the total of working piers with historically proven economic potential, to seven. See ASTORIA ONLY PART II Those are a few points to consider, in evaluating the proposal that TPB might be a real alternative to Smith Point.

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