Legislators should be reminded of channel project's importance

Editorial by the Longview Daily News


The long-awaited Columbia River channel-deepening project should soon get the final go-ahead for dredging. But Washington legislators may need a final shove to ensure the availability of state funding when that green light is given. That's the message we took from a Monday appearance at the Kelso/Longview Chamber of Commerce by Port of Longview executive director Ken O'Hollaren and Theeme Holznagel of the Columbia River Channel Coalition. Both O'Hollaren and Holznagel expressed confidence in our local lawmakers' commitment to the project. And O'Hollaren said they've assured him that they can protect the $10 million that's already been appropriated for the work.

But the port director is concerned, nonetheless. Understandably.
If the previously appropriated money isn't spent by the end of the fiscal year in June, the $10 million will have to reappropriated. Given the $2.4 billion budget gap the Legislature must fill this year, competition for those dollars could get fierce.

O'Hollaren and other supporters of channel deepening are going to the state Capitol next Tuesday to remind legislators of what this project means to the state's economic future. Given its great importance to the local economy, area residents would do well to help lobby lawmakers.

Deepening the shipping channel to 43 feet is critical to the future of ports along the lower Columbia River and the industries they help support. Bigger, more efficient cargo vessels will require that extra 3 feet of depth.

Indeed, large ships carrying grain from the Port of Kalama already are having to take on lighter loads to accommodate the river's 40-foot-deep channel.

This shipping trade along the Columbia River supports some 60,000 family wage jobs. If the trade is allowed to grow, the number of jobs will grow.

But, as supporters of channel deepening will communicate in Olympia next week, the benefits of this project are not confined to our region. They would accrue for all of the Pacific Northwest and, to a significant extent, the country as a whole.

The Columbia River is one of the nation's most important trade corridors. Cargo from more than 40 states regularly passes through ports along the lower Columbia. The value of waterborne cargo imported and exported at Columbia River ports exceeds $14 billion annually.

We remain optimistic that the dredging will begin early next year, as expected. Too much is at stake to abandon this project.


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