The residents of the tiny shoreline community of Prescott, Ore., enjoy an expansive view of the Columbia River — waves rippling against rocky shores and trees poking from Washington in the distance. But soon, they fear, all they'll see are the massive steel hulls of cargo ships.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to install two anchor buoys on the river near Prescott that will allow deep-draft vessels of around 750 feet in length to moor while they wait to unload their cargo. A third buoy will be installed near Vancouver, the corps said.
Prescott's mayor, Lynette Oswald, sent a letter Tuesday to the Port of Portland, one of the project's partners, asking that the buoys be installed farther away from homes in the town.
"The placement of these stern buoys and the ships they will anchor will forever impact Columbia River views, property values, noise levels and pollution," the letter said.
Barb Dottl, a 62-year-old retired hairdresser who lives on the water with her husband, Tom, said the ships' lights would cause an annoyance and their engines would send exhaust fumes wafting over homes.
"It would be like an 18-wheeler parking in your driveway and running 24/7 with its lights on," she said.
The anchor buoys are designed to attach to the vessels' sterns, keeping them from drifting into water-borne traffic. The ships' anchors hold their bows in place.
Corps project manager Mark Dasso said that in previous years smaller ships on the river could safely anchor closer to the shore where they didn't have to worry about their sterns pivoting into the shipping channel where they could be struck by other vessels. He added ships used today are bigger and can drift and interfere with other traffic if not anchored at both the bow and stern.
There are at least two other "stern anchor buoys" on the Columbia, both installed near Vancouver in the 1990s.
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The three new buoys are necessary because shipping traffic has increased, Dasso said. Ships often have to wait before they can berth at the river's ports to take on or unload cargo. Loaded vessels also sometimes have to wait for the river bar to open following a storm.
Ships can either wait at the river's mouth in Astoria, far from their destination ports upriver, or they can drop anchor and hire a tugboat to help hold them in place, which a corps publication claims can cost hundreds of dollars per hour.
The two anchor buoys at river mile 72 and the third near Vancouver are expected to be installed in August of 2012 at a total cost of around $1.5 million, Dasso said. He said the federal government will pay for 75 percent of the cost with the ports of Longview, Kalama, Portland and Vancouver picking up the remaining 25 percent.
The project still must be approved by the assistant secretary of the Army, Dasso said.
Frank Oliver, a Pescott city councilman, said he and his neighbors were blind-sided by plans to moor the ships near their homes and that the town doesn't have the money to fight he plan.
"The Podunk city of Prescott doesn't have any say about it," said Oliver, who believes the view from his deck will be obstructed by the ships. "We have no commerce. We have no industry here. We don't even have a bait shop, a store. Nothing.... We feel defenseless. We feel run over."
Dasso said he believes the neighbors' concerns about excess noise and light as well as engine fumes could be handled by establishing rules for vessels moored in the area, but isn't sure what he can do about preserving Prescott residents' views of the river.
"These ships, whether at an anchor buoy or whether a tug's holding them in place, they're out there on the river," Dasso said. "Someone else on the river is having to look at them now versus the Prescott people. ... Whose view of the world is more important? I don't know."