Washaway watch — Seamobile neighborhood nearly wiped out

Recent storms accompanied by gale-force winds pushing exceptionally high waves have battered Washaway Beach and North Cove near Tokeland, biting off yet more huge chunks of land.

As a result, the Seamobile neighborhood, once a thriving community with more than a dozen streets running parallel to Willapa Bay, has few residences and vacation properties left, and they are all close to going over the side.

The erosion zone stretches from Jacobson’s Jetty in Willapa Bay to several hundred yards north of Warrenton Cannery Road along the Pacific shoreline.

Century-old problem

The severe erosion problem along Willapa Bay’s north shore and on up the Pacific coastline is not a new one. Plagued by erosion for more than 100 years, the deep and swift channel close to the northern Willapa Harbor shoreline scours away the land at an alarming rate, taking with it miles of what was once farmland, the site of a Coast Guard Station and lighthouse, a Grange Hall and entire residential districts.

Today, more than 170 properties on the Pacific County tax rolls in that area are under water at high tide. The problem is so acute, the County has prohibited any new construction for more than a dozen years.

No longer seasonal

Until three years ago, the erosion process has been predictable in North Cove — it’s going to happen every winter and sometimes in other seasons as well. The big variable is the rate at which real estate drops over the side. Some winters, when the area has been blessed with milder weather, erosion has been minimal. Other foul-weather seasons have seen 200-300 feet of shoreline eaten away with alarming rapidity. The average over the last century is about 100 feet per year.

But, it seems, the times they are a changin’. Major erosion in North Cove kicked into high gear in the spring of 2009 and has continued at a rapid pace since, regardless of the season or the weather. In the last six months of 2009, Warrenton Cannery Road, once a popular beach approach for vehicles, lost approximately 640 feet. Since then, erosion has continued along that stretch at an alarming rate, with another more than 700 feet of oceanfront gone … and the hits just keep on coming.

Small relief

Various methods have been tried, none successfully, to stop the erosive process. A new groin, built in 1999 near the relocated Pioneer Cemetery where State Route 105 runs precariously close to the water’s edge, appears to be working to hold the highway, and even slowing erosion to the north for several hundred yards. Each year, more large rock is hauled to the site to shore up the base of the jetty and along the nearby creek to the north that flows into Willapa Bay.

Locally referred to as Jacobson’s Jetty in honor of early area pioneers by that name, the groin is considered a conditional success at this point in time. That hasn’t helped the residents of the Seamobile neighborhood or farther up the beach, however.

Engineers estimate that if the groin were longer, its effect would be even greater farther up the coastline. But … financial limitations keep it at its current length.

Caution and courtesy

Visitors to the area who would like a close look at the erosive action along Washaway Beach and in North Cove are cautioned to respect road barriers and No Trespassing signs in the neighborhood. You will be visiting an extremely unstable area where folks still live and you are expected to respect their property rights.