Dredging up federal support to deepen our river channel
Elected officials from Washington and three other Northwest states are pressing hard this month for the federal funds needed to begin dredging a deeper Columbia River shipping channel next year.
Senators, representatives and governors from the four states have closed ranks to request that Congress set aside $15 million for the channel-deepening project in the budget for the new fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
Readers would do well to join the effort by contacting their senators and representatives and expressing support for the project. Being able to cite substantial voter interest in the issue can only strengthen the unified voice of these elected officials.
With the federal deficit at record levels and Congress looking for places to cut, even this modest funding request faces tough going. But, as the lawmakers insisted in their letters to House and Senate subcommittees, the project ought to be a top priority.
The benefits of dredging the river's shipping channel from its current depth of 40 feet to 43 feet are not confined to the four states represented by this group of lawmakers. The Columbia River is a vital trade corridor for the nation as a whole.
Cargo from more than 40 states regularly passes through Columbia River ports. The value of that waterborne cargo exceeds $14 billion annually.
The plan to deepen the shipping channel to accommodate the next generation of cargo ships is a sound investment for taxpayers. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has conducted two economic feasibility studies, concluding that every $1 spent on the project will yield a $1.66 return to the nation.
For this and other port communities along the lower Columbia River, the project is more than just a good deal. It's close to an economic necessity.
Farmers, businesses and industries rely on river transport. Trade along the Columbia River supports an estimate 60,000 family wage jobs.
That trade will be sustained and grow only with the deeper shipping channel. Already it is being squeezed by the inability of bigger cargo ships to operate at full efficiency. Large ships carrying grain from the Port of Kalama are having to take on lighter loads to accommodate the channel's 40-foot depth.
This project has been in the works for almost 15 years now. It's
passed every review. It's time to start dredging.
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