Visitors flock to Oregon’s North Coast during winter months for, among many things, winter storm watching. And while big storms can be exciting to witness, they also bring their share of downsides. Heavy rains can sometimes lead to flooding and road washouts – usually a result of undersized culverts, says Amy Horstman with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Habitat Restoration Programs. When homeowners can’t reach their driveways, dairy farmers can’t get to their herds, loggers can’t access forests and tourists can’t reach their destinations, the local economy suffers. Meanwhile, these same culverts tend to be problematic for chinook and coho salmon, steelhead, chum, sea-run cutthroat trout and Pacific lamprey trying to reach their juvenile rearing and adult spawning grounds.
“Our road systems tend to be located really close to the waterways because they are the lowest and easiest areas to access,” Horstman says. “Yet these areas are most vulnerable during big rain events and high flows, especially if the culverts under the roadways are undersized.” Today, many cities and counties have a backlog of road repair projects, and the cost of some of projects outweigh the overall benefits – unless you look at the big picture.
“When we work together, we can all stretch our limited budgets to solve multiple problems at once,” Horstman says. In Tillamook County, the Public Works Department is collaborating with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and dozens of other public and private entities in what’s been called an “unprecedented partnership” to fix priority road crossings while restoring historic fish habitat.
For residents, businesses and tourists who depend on a reliable transportation system as well as excellent fishing opportunities, it’s a win-win project. And, it’s anything but business as usual. Known as the Salmon SuperHwy, the project is ambitious, not just because of its scope — 93 projects costing about $34 million — but because of its deep roster of partners, which include Tillamook Estuaries Partnership, Nestucca-Neskowin and Sand Lake Watersheds Council, Tillamook Bay Watershed Council, Trout Unlimited, Tillamook County, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Department of Transportation, U.S. Forest Service, Pelican Brewing Company and many others.
Why would a brewery contribute to a multi-million-dollar construction project? “More and more companies are interested in giving back to the environment and their community,” says Terry Turner, Oregon Council Chair with Trout Unlimited. “This project is a perfect fit because it’s not just a fish passage project; it’s a tangible way to help keep the community intact.”
In 2017, Pacific City-based Pelican Brewing Company, launched a seasonal beer, Five Fin Pilsner, named for the five ocean-going species of fish that benefit from the Salmon SuperHwy project. The company donates a portion of proceeds from every barrel of Five Fin to the project. And because it’s available year-round in 6-packs, 22-ounce bottles and on draft in select locations, even people located outside of Pacific City can “Drink a Beer, Save a Fish.” The company also hosted a Salmon Run 5K and 10K in September, which raised money for the project while also educating runners about the potential benefits the Salmon SuperHwy could bring to the North Coast.
The Salmon SuperHwy is committed to hiring local contractors, purchasing materials locally, and involving the local community in volunteer efforts through the watershed councils. “Other communities along the Coast can replicate what’s happening in Tillamook,” Horstman says. “It takes a lot of day-to-day effort to build relationships with state and local agencies and nonprofits. But it pays off.”
Photo courtesy of Pelican Brewing