Dredging proponents hopeful after funding vote

By Associated Press
Longview Daily News

Jul 16, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A vote by a House budget committee to earmark $2 million for a project to deepen the Columbia River shipping channel falls far short of requests from Northwest lawmakers, but proponents still hailed it as a victory.

"It's significant if there is some funding in the bill for the project at all," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore. "I think as it moves through the congressional budget process, the funding level will probably be increased."

Blumenauer and other proponents noted that the $2 million figure approved by the House Appropriations Committee marks the first time House appropriators have chosen to set aside money rather than wait for the Senate to decide funding levels.

Northwest lawmakers had requested $20 million for the budget year that begins Oct. 1. The full House and Senate must approve any funding amount level before any money can be spent.

"It might take a little longer, but projects like these require momentum," said Bill Wyatt, executive director of the Port of Portland. "I feel like the project now has momentum."

Dredging is supposed to begin next year and be finished by 2007, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the project's chief sponsor.

A corps spokesman said the agency would work with whatever level of funding Congress provides. He declined to say whether the $134 million project could stay on schedule without the full $20 million requested by Northwest lawmakers.

Meanwhile, a taxpayers' group decried the vote as a boondoggle for the Army corps.

"With record budget deficits, you would assume that lawmakers want to end the era of wasteful pork barrel spending and go on a diet," said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington-based advocacy group. "Instead, they are spending money like teenagers with a new credit card."

The money for the Columbia dredging is part of a $27.1 billion energy and water bill approved by the House panel. That figure is about $1 billion above the amount President Bush requested and includes a $288 million increase for the Army corps.

The Columbia deepening project is among a host of "dubious" water projects that lawmakers "have no business funding," said Ellis, whose group questions whether benefits of the dredging project exceed costs.

Plans call for deepening the 40-foot Columbia channel by three feet to allow new generations of deep-draft ships to load more cargo and grain. The project would serve Portland and five ports downriver.

The corps has predicted that the project would return $1.71 for every $1 of cost. But an outside panel criticized the corps for including benefits for cargo loaded at Puget Sound ports and cargo loaded on ships that can clear the existing channel.

The Columbia project, which has been planned for years, has broad support from lawmakers across the Northwest.

Chris Matthews, a spokesman for Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., said the project remained one of Smith's top priorities.



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