April 20, 2019 — The Pacific Ocean is an integral part of the Florence experience. The crash of the rolling waves can be heard in Historic Old Town on most evenings, providing an inspiring sonic backdrop for dinner hour. Capping off the evening with a sunset walk on the beach is also a must for many visitors.
One of the most popular locations for residents and tourists to have fun in the water, either by surfing, kite-boarding or swimming, is at the South Jetty of the Siuslaw River. The South Jetty also allows individuals to hike the dunes that inspired author Frank Herbert and to fish and crab at spots that have traditionally yielded large amounts of seafood to anglers.
However, for more than two months, access to this special spot has been severely limited. The road that leads out to the jetty, Sand Dunes Road, was closed on Feb. 4 and surfers and crabbers have been unable to drive the last mile or so past the barricades that have been set up to stop traffic from reaching the road’s unimproved parking areas.
Traditionally, this free parking area provides many with the perfect area to stage their ocean activities, but recent high tides and a long stretch of rain has eaten away the understructure of Sand Dunes Road. The main damage is located approximately four miles down the road and has caused the asphalt on the right side to fall 20 feet or so to the sand below.
The damage to the road bed is significant and closure of the road was implemented until repairs could be made. This closure has presented a serious impediment to those that regularly use the area for recreation.
Jon Tipple is a lifelong surfer and has been frequenting the South Jetty for decades. He is also a founding member of the Siuslaw Surfriders Chapter and a member of the Blue Water Task Force, which monitors water quality in and around Florence.
Tipple has been unable to drive the last mile of the road since the beginning of the year. This lack of access severely restricts his ability to surf but it also means he cannot test the water for contaminates or pollution.
“The ongoing closure of South Jetty Road has denied people from all around the Northwest access to the primary recreational outlet of Florence. This closure has been in effect since early winter and impacts surfers, kite-boarders, crabbers, fisherman and beach goers,” Tipple said. “It also negatively affects ATVs that venture down the dunes. The number of ATVers has declined dramatically as they go to other areas that have ingress and egress to the beach.”
The erosion damage is on the right lane of the road. The section of asphalt that has fallen is approximately 20 feet long and is five feet wide.
James Pettett is a hydrologist for the U.S. Forest Service, assigned to the Central Coast Ranger District, which includes the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. While not officially authorized to speak on the South Jetty situation, Pettett did provide some clarity as to the process underway, as official statements from the public information office regarding the closure were not provided by press time.
“We want to repair the road as soon as possible and we are working on repairing the road,” Pettett said. “But there are consultation issues that we have to work through to make sure we don’t have any negative impacts to cultural resources, so we have to do surveys to make sure we don’t impact those resources.”
There are additional concerns from the perspective of people that work for the U.S. Forest Service, which operates under the authority of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“We work for the federal government, so we have slightly different rules we have to follow concerning endangered species, so we are working through those issues,” Pettett said. “There are snowy plovers in the area, and we have to communicate with our wildlife biologists and with the Fish and Wildlife Service, so we have to check all of the boxes as we continue to consult with our partner agencies.”
This consultation and communication process is the main reason that what appears to be a minor repair, is taking so long, according to Tipple.
“The National Seashore Recreation office in Reedsport is spearheading the repairs, but the permitting process involves not only them but the Army Corps of Engineers and the State of Oregon,” Tipple said. “The resulting bureaucratic mire has delayed the fix for too long. A short-term fix could have been done in a couple of days or so as a local contractor is standing by for the go-ahead.”
Pettett wants to assure the public the state is aware of the need to reopen access to the South Jetty. He and his co-workers are determined to complete the necessary consultations and surveys soon and hope to have the road repaired quickly once those consultations have occurred.
“The goal is to get the road open as soon as possible. The Forest Service is working to get it open, but we have to communicate and work with others and we don’t get to entirely set our own timeline. Our hope is to complete this repair as soon as possible,” Pettett said.