West Coast Contractors Expands Fred Wahl Marine Construction Shipyard on Bolan Island
When Fred Wahl made plans to expand his shipyard on the Southern Oregon Coast, he called on West Coast Contractors for help. The new facility, now under construction on Bolon Island, near Reedsport, will be three times the size of the current facility and will increase the workforce by over 50 percent from its current crew of 75.
The vessels to be produced at Fred Wahl Marine Construction are not the first boats to be built on the island. Local Native American tribes inhabited the land for thousands of years, relying on dugout canoes to travel the rivers as their primary transportation, with their main source of food coming from the abundant salmon runs in the area.
When the sailing ship Bostonian was shipwrecked nearby in 1850, most of the goods were saved from the ship and moved to the location that came to be the town of Gardiner, adjacent to Bolon Island. The town was quickly established as one of the largest towns on the Pacific Coast and began producing lumber for the growing area and steam powered sternwheelers to navigate the Umpqua River. As the West was settled, several mills were built to provide lumber to the increasing population from Seattle to San Francisco.
Bolon Island was a very important part of Gardiner's history, having been the home of some of the many sawmills that dominated the area for over a century. Other industries were housed on the island, including farms and a drive-in theater in the 1950's and 1960's. As the timber industry in the Pacific Northwest declined, timber revenues fell and mills closed, throwing the area into a decades-long recession. The mills at Gardiner and Bolon Island ceased operation in the 1990's.
In an effort to be more competitive in the Northwest, American Bridge purchased a portion of the island in 2000. The company invested $10 million to build a state-of-the-art facility for building bridge components. Unfortunately, economic conditions forced its closure in 2013, causing another blow to the local economy.
Then along came Fred Wahl with his plan to build a shipyard at the old American Bridge facility. Announced in 2014, Fred Wahl Marine Construction began making plans to expand their busy shipyard on 38 acres of Bolon Island. The facility will feature a 530-ton travel lift, allowing for several boats to be hauled ashore and repaired simultaneously. The shipyard will utilize several of the existing buildings and when completed will have over 50,000 square feet of welding and fabrication shop, a 12,000-square-foot paint shop, an 18,000-square-foot indoor boat repair and assembly building, railroad access, and long term dry moorage. The company plans to keep their existing 7-acre shipyard, just downstream and across the river, operating after the new one is complete.
Wahl has been around boats his entire life, having been born in nearby Depoe Bay. After working on the docks in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska for several years, building crab pots and doing repair work, he built his first fishing boat in 1988. When he moved his operation to its current location in Reedsport in 1991, there was plenty of competition in the industry. That came to an end when regulations limited the number of boats in the water, greatly reducing the demand for new boats. Unfortunately, this occurred at the same time the timber industry lost many family wage jobs. Unemployment in the area rose sharply and still has not fully recovered. Many boatyards closed during this time, but Fred Wahl Marine Construction had a good reputation and business plan which enabled it to stay afloat.
By 2005 the boatbuilding industry had picked up, and Fred Wahl's company was in the position to become one of the largest fabrication shops on the West Coast. Their boats are working up and down the coast, but most are bound for Alaska to work the crab, cod, halibut and sable fisheries. Of the Alaskan fleet, roughly three-quarters of the boats built since 2000 have come from Fred's shipyard in Reedsport. In fact, some of the vessels built at the shipyard have been featured on Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch. The shipyard currently builds about three boats per year, along with tugboats up to 92 feet, and repairs and retrofitting of existing vessels. The largest new vessel built to date is the 114 foot Victory, a crab/combination vessel completed in 2013.
The new facility on Bolon Island will greatly increase the capacity of the shipyard. With this increased capacity and Wahl's reputation, the business is geared up to continue turning out an even larger portion of the best boats on the West Coast.
Choosing By Experience
It only makes sense that when Fred Wahl wanted to begin development of his new shipyard that he would call on West Coast Contractors to do the heavy lifting. WCC, based in nearby Coos Bay, Oregon, has been working in and around the water for over 50 years. Started by Joe Kronsteiner in 1962 and now operated by his sons David and Lonnie, WCC is a general contractor that specializes in heavy construction projects including bridges, harbors, marine facilities, and governmental work. Beginning with two cranes and a three-man crew, the company has grown to become one of the most highly recognized and respected marine contractors in the area. The NOAA pier in nearby Newport, Oregon, and the commercial fishing pier in Trinidad, California, are but two examples of the type of projects in which WCC excels.
Both these, as well as many other projects, required precise planning and plain hard work to have the facilities completed during short in-water-work-windows. WCC utilizes its own Project Control System (PCS) on each of its projects that acts as a vital blueprint to any project. Understanding the human tendency of rushed contractors to cut corners and skip steps in order to finish the job on time, WCC prevents itself from making such mistakes and instead focuses on planning ahead in order to meet deadlines. The unique PCS approach lays out 10 crucial tasks and responsibilities that must be met for each of its projects to ensure that the job is done right. These steps, while sometimes seemingly inherent, are often overlooked by construction companies that are rushing to get started. By laying out an efficient checklist, WCC ensures key steps are not left out.
Constructing the Pier
Among WCC's specialties is driving pipe piles as well as sheetpiling from both land and barge. For this job, WCC performed work on the boat haul-out and pier. They drove approximately 800 lineal feet of IBZ 26-700 sheetpile to form the bulkhead of the boat slip. These bulkhead sheets were then tied back to an anchor wall with tie rods. Additionally, 74, 24-inch-diameter pipe piles were driven to support the travel lift runway, including precisely driven batter piles to support the lateral loads created by the large travel lift. To accomplish this, the contractor designed and fabricated a specialized template used to drive the batter piles into their exact location. WCC used an APE 150T, Delmag D30 and a Sonic Side Grip SP100 attached to their CAT 330 Excavator for this portion of the work.
Once the land-based work was completed, WCC needed to complete the in-water work during a very tight in-water work period to prevent disruption to the migrating salmon found in the river. Utilizing their P&H 790 crane deployed on a modular barge, WCC drove 83, 24-inch pipe piles to a depth of up to 150 feet. Again, a custom-designed template was designed and fabricated to provide accurate placement of the batter piles used on this phase. The majority of the work was accomplished with the APE 150T Vibratory Hammer. Later in the project this will be finished with pile caps and a concrete slab to form a 64-foot by 190-foot pier and an 8-foot by 150-foot floating dock. The crews worked through the rough winter weather and tides that are common in the Pacific Northwest to complete this portion of the work.
The work being done on Bolon Island continues the history of boat building, fishing and industrial use that has been the mainstay of the area for generations. West Coast Contractors is helping Fred Wahl Marine Construction to expand their operations as well as the workforce and payroll in an area which sorely needs additional industry and revenue. Small town Reedsport, Oregon, is an unlikely place to be the home of the largest builder of fishing vessels working in the Pacific Northwest and Alaskan waters. "Twenty five years ago they didn't even know where Reedsport, Oregon, was," Wahl says, "so we've shown thousands of people." With the new facility under construction, Fred Wahl will continue to keep Reedsport on the map for at least another 25 years.