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New Wetland Area on N. Oregon Coast Providing More Benefits Than Thought

Published 12/21/21 at 4:42 AM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

New Wetland Area on N. Oregon Coast Providing More Benefits Than Thought

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(Tillamook, Oregon) - A few years ago, a tidal wetland restoration project was finished on the north Oregon coast along Tillamook Bay, designed with environmental concerns in mind. Yet a study from Oregon State University (OSU) has revealed there's more going on here that affects humans – and indeed the tourism and local economy – than previously realized. It's even created yet another recreation area for visitors.

The 443-acre wetland doesn't have an official name it seems, but it's found on the western edges of Tillamook up against the city limits and Hoquarten Slough, bordered along the southern edges of the Wilson River. The restoration project was completed in 2017 at the cost of $11.2 million, and it has achieved its aims and more. It has led to benefits for Tillamook Bay waters, flood mitigation and salmon habitat improvements – its original goals. However, it's also brought a variety of other socioeconomic benefits to the Tillamook area, including more recreation possibilities, higher home values nearby and increased carbon storage in the local environment.

All this is according to the OSU study co-authored by Steve Dundas of Oregon State University's College of Agricultural Sciences and the Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station in Newport, which was funded by Tillamook Estuaries Partnership and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Restoration Center. Those groups were two of the partners in the restoration project.

Graphic courtesy OSU

“The positive impact on housing values near the restored site alone likely justifies the investment in this project,” Dundas said.

When the project was begun, its primary goal was to help reduce the destructive flooding within Tillamook and along that part of Highway 101, as well as improving habitat for salmon. Yet it turns these projects have ripple effects, helping people beyond their original intent of the environment or fish, as one NOAA official put it. In this case, it's locals on the Oregon coast as well as visitors that receive the positive results.

Among the big finds were how the public is able to use this area for walking, fishing, birdwatching, kayaking and educational possibilities, and its possible impact on tourism.

The study indicated activities such as kayaking and wildlife viewing have an estimated value of $60 to as much $471 per person per day.

“The restoration project created a large area for increased recreation that wasn't there before,” said Graham Shaw, the lead author on the study. “It wasn't accessible for people in the community the way it is now.”

Nan Devlin, executive director of Tillamook Coast, said visitors can access the wetlands from Hoquarton Slough from a non-motorized boat launch. On the eastern side of Highway 101 there are walking paths for the area.

For locals and Oregon coast visitors, a reduction in flooding along that part of Highway 101 and the Tillamook business corridor will be a welcome one. Travel delays alone during these flood events can cost over $7,000 on average each time.

Dundas and Shaw said since the restoration project was completed, Tillamook has only experienced two minor, five-year flooding events, and in both cases, the flooding was less severe than previous similar floods.

“In both cases, the amount of flooding was 9 inches less than previous floods. It took two to three hours longer for the city to flood and the floodwaters receded two to three hours sooner than it would have previously,” said Kristi Foster, executive director of the Tillamook Estuary Partnership.

Homes within three-quarters of a mile of the area increased in value by 10 percent since the project's completion, OSU found. Water quality in Tillamook Bay is also getting an assist by more sediment getting trapped within the project area and not in the bay, decreasing the need for dredging.

NOAA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency were the primary funders of the project.

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