Jean may yet find Independence

Riverboat fever hits town, but who will win Jean's vagabond heart?


Steamboat Jean sits in Asotin Wash., its final resting place unless it finds its way to Independence's Riverview Park.

INDEPENDENCE -- The drama continues week after week.

Which one of her suitors will win Jean's favor? Will it be Richard Chesbrough, the daring captain of the Willamette Queen? Or will it be Vern Wilson and Jeff Edwardsen, the boys next door?

Vern and Jeff say she belongs to them. But will they take care of her?

Jean may yet find Independence. If she does, one thing is certain. City Manager Greg Ellis is not "Joe Millionaire."

The 65-year-old steamboat must pay her own way -- either through grants or volunteer labor. Not a problem, said Chesbrough.

He has a whole battery of people eager to help get Steamboat Jean from the Chief Lookingglass Marina in Asotin, Wash., to Riverview Park in Independence.

There's just one little problem. Wilson and Edwardsen say they bought the boat from its previous owner, Elmer Earl. The two Lewiston, Idaho, residents want to keep the boat up there.

However, they have a problem of their own. They have to move the 42-foot wide leviathan. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owns the marina and wants Steamboat Jean out of there ASAP.

Engineers originally set April 16 as the deadline for Jean to move. Or else. They are willing to grant an extension for someone who has a viable plan to get the boat out of the marina.

Chesbrough said he has such a plan. Edwardsen and Wilson's plan remains to be seen.

Lots of people want to see Independence get the boat, including Asotin City Manager Jennifer Bly.

"We want the city of Independence to get it. It doesn't have historical significance here. It belongs on the Willamette," Bly said.

Other supporters have services to offer. And a good thing too.

Getting Steamboat Jean to Independence poses to lean challenge. She is 42 feet wide. The Willamette Locks in West Linn are 40 feet wide. No more. No less.

Chesbrough plans to tip Jean on one side, cradling her on top of a barge. That should get her through the locks. However, this side of the locks presents its own obstacles.

Moving Steamboat Jean is not a problem. Although she has no engines, Chesbrough lined up some volunteer tugboats. The real problem is the river.

It's going down as summer approaches. Soon, it will be too low to float a boat from Portland to Independence. Chesbrough has that covered too.

He found a drydock in Wilsonville where Jean can rest -- free of charge -- until the river decides to cooperate again in the fall.

"That takes the crunch off of trying to get everything done in a hurry," Chesbrough said.

Time is a luxury Edwardsen and Wilson don't have. If they don't have a plan, the Corps of Engineers is unlikely to have patience.

"We bought the time we needed in order to do this," Chesbrough.

He worries Wilson and Edwardsen, for lack of a viable plan, might turn Jean into scrap. "That would be a real shame," he said.

Jean is already a celebrity in those parts. The Clackamas County Museum includes a scale model of the steamboat. Not to mention a full set of engineering plans.

Independence, too, has caught steamboat fever.

Mayor John McArdle said he has gotten dozens of calls at home in favor of the idea. No civic issue has ever generated this kind of response, he said.

Independence has no money to spend on Jean but Chesbrough is not daunted. The boat is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That opens up all kinds of grants and other funding possibilities, Chesbrough said.

Oregon Senate Bill 1037 even allows floating structures like Jean to be turned into condominiums.

Jean belongs back home in Oregon, Chesbrough said. She was built in Portland in 1938 -- named for the daughter of a Crown Zellerbach executive.

Until 1975, she towed logs and pushed barges loaded with wood chips, paper products and other cargo along the Lower Columbia and Willamette Rivers.

Chesbrough said he will do what he can to bring her home, but ultimately, Jean's fate rests with her adoptive state.

"Right now, it's in the hands of the people up in Washington."


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