States OK with Columbia River dredging work

Seattle Post-Intelligencer


PORTLAND, ORE-- A 15-year project to deepen the Columbia River channel has won approval from key state agencies in Oregon and Washington, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said yesterday. The states set environmental guidelines for the work, which could start in 2004.

The $134 million project would deepen the navigation channel of a 106-mile stretch of river from 40 feet to 43 feet, from Vancouver to the mouth of the Columbia River near Astoria.

The project, which involves dredging 14.5 million cubic yards of sand and other material from the 600-foot-wide channel, won legal certification from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development and the Washington Department of Ecology.

Proponents say the work is needed to assure that the ports of Portland and St. Helens in Oregon, and Vancouver, Longview, Woodland and Kalama in Washington, continue to attract global shipping.

"Fundamentally, this is about competitiveness," said Ken O'Hollaren, executive director of the Port of Longview. "It's about maintaining this river as a modern waterway so shippers can use the river."

Many of the bulk cargo and container ships that transport everything from hay to frozen french fries are "light-loaded" to travel the shallow Columbia, he said.

A deeper channel would allow ships to carry more, lower the cost of transportation and enable Northwest ports to compete in the international market, O'Hollaren said.

Smaller upriver ports would also benefit, said Gary Neal, manager of the Port of Morrow, in Boardman, Ore. Grain from Oregon and other Western states travels by rail to Morrow, then by barge down the Columbia to downriver ports, where it is loaded onto oceangoing ships.

Some fishermen, environmentalists and others object to the plan, arguing it will destroy the habitats of crabs, salmon and other wildlife.

"There's no such thing as salmon-friendly dredging," said Glen Spain, Northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. He called the project "potentially devastating" to the Columbia estuary's $50 million Dungeness crab bed, the largest in the lower 48 states.

The state agencies will monitor water quality and shore areas.

The project's price tag has dropped since its conception. The agency estimated a $188 million cost in 1999, which dropped to $156.2 million in 2002 and $133.6 million earlier this year as officials lowered their estimates of how much material they will need to dredge.

Seventy-five percent of the money will come from the federal government and the rest from Oregon and Washington.

Opponents and proponents praised efforts by state and local organizations to balance economic goals with environmental concerns.


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