Waldport, Alsea Bay

Waldport, Alsea Bay

by | May 2, 2022

Waldport is a community situated on the southern shore of Alsea Bay, an estuary of the Alsea River, about 15 miles (24 km) south of Newport and 8 miles (13 km) north of Yachats, Oregon. Bayshore is a residential community on the north shore of Alsea Bay. Alsea River drains a watershed of about 298,239 acres  (120,693 ha) and flows generally west for 34 miles (55 km) through the Central Oregon Coast Range from the confluence of the North Fork Alsea River and the South Fork Alsea River at the community of Alsea. The North Fork flows generally southeast for 16 miles (26 km) from the southwest flank of Marys Peak. The South Fork Alsea River flows generally northwest for 15 miles (24 km) to the confluence with the North Fork. The name is derived from the word ‘Alse’, which is what the Coosan and Siuslaw tribes to the south called the people that historically lived along the shores of the present-day Alsea River. The entire Oregon Coast Range overlies a convergent tectonic margin formed by the Juan de Fuca plate being subducted underneath the North America plate. This is called the Cascadia subduction zone which has been active for several million years. The central Coast Range is underlain by igneous rocks that originated as volcanic islands and consist mainly of pillow basalt, large lava flows, tuff-breccia, and sills. The majority of the Alsea River watershed is underlain by the Tyee Formation comprised of Eocene age marine turbidites called greywacke. The active tectonic forces have created many faults and folds in the Coast Range, and unlike many areas in North America, the Oregon Coast Range did not experience glaciation during the Pleistocene age. Instead, heavy rainfall has contributed to landslides and erosion that shaped the present-day landscape and formed the relatively flat terrain suitable for human settlement.

The people that lived on the banks of the Alsea River and on the shores of the estuary called themselves the Wusi which is a placename for the river in the Yakonan language. The Yakonan-speaking people were estimated to have a population of about 6,000 in 1780 and dropped quickly following contact with Euro-Americans with only 29 in 1910 and 9 in 1930. The Alsea hunted seals and sea lions for meat and also netted salmon. They flattened the heads of their infants and placed their dead in canoes at isolated points of land jutting into estuaries. When the American trader Captain Robert Gray sailed off the Oregon coast in 1788, the Alseas were reputedly hostile indicating they possibly had a previous encounter with maritime visitors. By the 1820s, they were trading with ships of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The Alsea River valley was first settled as early as 1855 when the name ‘Alseya Settlement’ appeared on the Surveyor General‘s map. In the late 1870s, settlers were moving to the coast from the Willamette Valley by floating down the Alsea River and filing donation land claims or homesteads on the traditional lands of the Alsea. In 1859 and 1860, the Alsea people were forcibly removed from their homelands to the southern part of the Coast Reservation, later called the Siletz Reservation. In 1865, the Siletz Reservation was divided into two parts by the withdrawal of a strip of land around Yaquina Bay. The tribes inhabiting the southern part became known as the Alsea Tribes of the Alsea Reservation and later the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians whose descendants today mostly live around Coos Bay. In 1879, David and Orlena Ruble laid out a rudimentary plat for a settlement on the south shore of Alsea Bay, and the town of Waldport was chartered in 1890 and incorporated in 1911. The name Waldport was derived from the German word ‘wald‘ for the surrounding forest. The history of Waldport integrates a hundred years of the timber industry, and although no sawmills remain, logging still supports the local economy. A railroad to Waldport was built in 1918 by the U.S. Army to cut spruce trees used to build airplanes during World War I. After the war ended the rail line was acquired by the C.D. Johnson Lumber Company, which used it to log an area south of town and when the logging was completed in 1935 the railroad was abandoned. The rail line once extended from the port docks to Toledo on Yaquina Bay and was the first reliable crossing of the bay that did not require a boat. The first Alsea Bay Bridge was designed by Conde McCullough and completed in 1936 as part of the Oregon Coast Highway, but the steel reinforcements eventually succumbed to exposure and the bridge was replaced in 1991.

About 2 miles (3.2 km) north of Waldport, Oregon State University is constructing a facility to test wave energy converters that may provide operational alternative energy sources to local communities and the regional power grid. Wave power has long been considered one of the most promising renewable energy sources. Wave energy converters are electro-mechanical devices that convert wave power into electricity. Although attempts to utilize this resource date back to at least 1890, wave power is currently not widely employed due mostly to production costs per kWh, which were in 2020 about a factor of 10 higher compared to offshore wind farms. Many methods for wave power conversion have been invented in the last three decades, resulting in thousands of patents. At present, a number of different wave energy concepts are being investigated by companies and academic research groups around the world. Although many working designs have been developed and tested through modeling and wave tank tests, only a few concepts have progressed to sea testing. Strong cost reductions, which are only possible with a sharp increase in global application, might enable wave plants to compete favorably with conventional power plants in the future. The open ocean wave energy testing facility off the Oregon coast will help to reduce these costs. The facility consists of two offshore sites linked by data and power cables to an onshore monitoring site. When it becomes operational in 2024, it will provide a state-of-the-art, pre-permitted, accredited, grid-connected, wave energy test facility developed in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, the State of Oregon, Oregon State University, and local stakeholders. The location was selected through a public outreach process, including significant input from local fishermen. The open ocean test site will consist of four berths, which will occupy 1,280 acres (518 ha) of the ocean floor with a cable route to shore approximately 12 miles (19 km) long. The site is pre-permitted for the majority of wave energy device types, and users will not have to undertake a costly and time-consuming permitting process prior to operational testing at the site. All necessary infrastructure will be in place, including power and data cables and a shoreside grid connection facility. The site is permitted for the testing of up to 20 wave energy converters in four berths, allowing different technologies to be tested at the same time, with a maximum power output of up to 20 MW. Each berth will have a dedicated 5 MW-capable power and data cable connection to the shoreside facility. All required environmental monitoring is being conducted by Oregon State University. Read more here and here. Explore more of Waldport and Alsea Bay here:

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About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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