Columbia River navigation markers replaced in Washington

LONGVIEW, Wash. (AP) — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has started a project to replace dozens of steel rods known as king piles in the Columbia River that warn boats and other vessels about the locations of underwater dams.

The $2.1 million project will replace dozens of 65-foot (20-meter) steel rods marking pile dikes, also known as wing dams, that are made of alternating vertical timber piles, The Daily News reported Wednesday.

“This job is all about marking them for safety,” Project Engineer Matt Joerin said, adding that 68 pile dikes are set to get new markers this year. The king piles let boaters know about the pile dikes so vessels won't run over them.

“Most of the structure is below water for the majority of the year … so the tall piles on the end that we call king piles basically mark the location of the pile dikes to boaters on the river,” Project Manager Jessica Stokke said.

The pile dikes were designed to keep the river channel in shape and prevent navigation-blocking sand bars from forming by slowing the river's water flow. But most in the Columbia River are at least 100 years old.

“They may not look new and shiny, but they are still functional,” Joerin said, adding that big barges and shipping vessels would not be able navigate the river without them, a major concern for ports such as Longview and Kalama.

About 40 of the 68 pile dikes have been updated so far, officials said. The project is expected to be completed before the end of the year.