Coast Guard Establishes Safety Zone On The Columbia River

The Coast Guard established a safety zone September 5 that restricted vessels from a 20-mile stretch of the Columbia River.

Coast Guard crews have deployed to the affected area and are continually assessing conditions on the Columbia River. The Coast Guard will evaluate vessel transit requests on a case-by-case basis.

In response to impacts of the Eagle Creek fire in central Oregon, the Coast Guard’s captain of the port for the Columbia River established a safety zone, restricting the river to all vessel traffic east of Portland from Columbia River miles 126 to 146.

“Responders need the operational space to allow their pilots flexibility to maneuver, choosing the best spot to land and fly while accounting for shifting winds and narrow areas in the gorge,” said Capt. Tom Griffitts, commanding officer of the Marine Safety Unit in Portland. “The incident command for the fire response requested restricting the waterway from Columbia River from Reed Island to the Bonneville Dam. The captain of the port supported the request.”

High temperatures and winds have created potentially unsafe conditions for vessels to transit the river. Additionally, the river is being actively used as a source of water by airborne firefighting activities. The vessel restrictions will allow fixed-wing and rotary aircraft to safely use the river for their response efforts. Safety concerns for the public and firefighting requirements were the impetus for the safety zone restricting commercial and recreational vessel traffic on the Columbia River.

Multiple commercial vessels including cargo tugs and barges as well as river cruise vessels have been impacted by the river restrictions. The Coast Guard is working with industry stakeholders to prioritize the needs of the marine transportation system. Impacted commercial vessels should contact Coast Guard waterways management personnel at 503-572-3524 to request authorization to transit through the safety zone.

The Columbia River is an essential commercial waterway for the Pacific Northwest and is the principle route for vessel traffic to move $29 billion annually in cargo up and down the multi-state waterway.

The Coast Guard is alerting mariners about the safety zone through broadcasts on marine VHF radio channels 16 and 22A. Entry of vessels or persons into the safety zone is prohibited unless specifically authorized by the captain of the port.

The river remains restricted to all recreational vessel traffic.