Friday, February 28, 2014

How Deep is My River? Part 4

During my days of working on the docks it slowly dawned on me that a city 113 miles from the sea is an odd place for a major seaport. When I began researching the subject, and discovered how these rather shallow and often treacherous waters were "improved" over the years to allow for the progression of deeper and deeper drafts of increasingly larger vessels, I was amazed that the story was one that few people knew. The unique situation of Portland can only be understood by comparing our seaport to others. As a final illustration to the "How Deep is My River?" series of blog posts I offer this info graphic published in October 1912 in Engineering News magazine. It shows the principle inland seaports and their respective distances from the sea.

Engineering News, Oct. 1912

Philadelphia    94  --- The first 38 miles is the 25 mile-wide Delaware Bay.
New Orleans  100
London           70  -- Wide inlet at the mouth.
Glasgow         100  --The first 80 miles being wide inlets (Firth of Clyde, Wemyss Bay).
Rotterdam      22 -- Wide inlet at the mouth.
Antwerp         59 -- Wide inlet at the mouth.
Bremen          70 -- Wide inlet at the mouth.
Hamburg        75 -- Wide inlet at the mouth.
Portland          112

This article was published 2 years before the opening of the Panama Canal, which cut in half the 18,000 mile trip to Europe. It was a time when Portland was waking up to the fact that it could stand alongside the major seaports of the world. The new Panama Canal channel, opening this year, will set a new template for shipbuilding. Up until now it has been Panamax, ships designed to just squeeze through the canal. The New Panamax will be deeper and wider, meaning the ships cannot receive full cargoes at the lower Columbia ports. What this means for the Army Corp of Engineers, the local maritime business, and the environment is yet to be seen.

As a city and a port Portland has always been in a state of flux. We won't always be the hipster capital of the world. Will we remain the only major seaport 112 miles from the ocean?