Economists to review benefits of deepening Columbia channel

The Associated Press
The Oregonian

8/6/02 3:18 AM

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- The numbers used to justify deepening the Columbia River shipping channel by three feet are getting another look this week by a team of economic analysts.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hired two review teams to scrutinize cost and benefit conclusions made by the corps in supporting the channel-deepening project.

The project entails deepening the Columbia River shipping channel from 40 feet to 43 feet from the Pacific Ocean to Vancouver to accommodate larger container ships.

The cost is projected to be around $156 million. The corps estimates the project will yield $1.50 in benefit for every $1 spent.

Some in Astoria fear the project will damage fishing while the profits go upriver.

The seven analysts are meeting in Portland to assess the "reasonableness" of the economic assumptions, methodology and conclusions made by the corps in determining the project's worth.

The analysts include consultants from private firms and two universities.

Monday's public meeting featured a stream of presentations by officials from the corps and the Port of Portland.

Corps economist Brian Shank said a deeper channel will yield a $1.50 savings per ton shipped on bulk cargo or about $171,534 per trip.

He said 74 percent of all container ships calling on the Port of Portland draft between 35 feet and 38 feet deep. If the channel were deepened, he said, 86 percent would draft between 38 feet and 41 feet by 2008. The deeper a ship's draft, the more cargo it can carry.

Jim Dally, a senior research associate at the Port of Portland, said the Port of Portland currently handles 61 percent of the products that originate within Oregon, much of southern Washington and parts of Idaho.

The rest goes through Seattle or Tacoma.

Portland's share of that market would shrink to 40 percent if the channel is not deepened, he said.

The analysts challenged some of corps' conclusions but will withhold judgments until they see more data.

The Tuesday-through-Thursday meetings are closed to the public.

The analysts will release a written report of their conclusions.

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