KALAMA — The 140-foot Wineberg Totem Pole is one of the tallest in the world carved from a single tree. It has withstood fierce winds at the Port of Kalama for more than 40 years, but now its so rotten that a modest gust could take it down, according to a new assessment of the iconic feature.
The totem pole will be taken down before winter as a safety precaution, and its fate from there remains undecided even though port officials say they want it preserved.
A consultant evaluated the pole and two shorter totems that stand beside it two years ago. Another assessment this spring by Vancouver-based WRK Engineers found the wood in the middle of the tallest pole is so badly decayed that a 40 mph wind could topple it.
Port marketing manager, Liz Newman said the port wants to preserve the pole because it has been a fixture at the port’s Marina Park. It’s visible from around the Columbia River, Interstate 5 and all around Kalama.
“There are people who don’t know where Kalama is, but know where the totem poles are,” Newman said.
On June 27, the port commissioners decided to take the pole down as soon as the agency can select a contractor. There’s no timeline, but it will be done before winter, Newman said.
The port leases the totems from the Wineberg family for $1 per year and is in close contact with the family about the condition of the poles and what to do next.
The Port of Kalama wrote about the condition of the 140-foot pole on its Facebook page, and has since received more than 100 comments, Newman said. Many people have personal stories about the poles and are invested in their future, she said.
“People are anxious to hear a resolution,” Newman said. “They’re fearful the pole will be taken away, but that’s not our goal.”
WRK has recommended that the port block off the area around the poles during any kind of wind storm.
Once the pole is on the ground, the port will work with the family to determine what’s next, Newman said.
“It’s a unique thing and we do want to preserve it.”