Columbia dredging won't harm salmon, agency finds
Tribal groups worried project could be setback for fish

By Associated Press

VANCOUVER, Wash. 5/2/02_ Deepening the Columbia River shipping channel to make way for bigger ships will not endanger salmon, the National Marine Fisheries Service concludes in a preliminary opinion.

The service let tribal groups see the opinion this week and plans to make a final draft public later this month.

The opinion assesses the impact of a $196 million project to deepen the river by 3 feet between Vancouver and Astoria, Ore., on 12 species of salmon and steelhead.

Tribal representatives were not happy with the findings.

"Our whole federal salmon plan is to improve survival and not go backwards," said Don Sampson, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. "I don't see how anyone would see how this type of project would be beneficial to salmon or even neutral."

If bigger, modern ships are to keep using Columbia River ports, project supporters say, the channel must be deepened to 43 feet.

David Hunt, director of the Columbia River Channel Coalition, also said thousands of acres of shallow-water salmon habitat will be restored as part of the dredging project.

"When you look at the independent scientists who were assembled to look at what the actual impacts are, it seems clear that there are not negative long-term impacts," he said.

But Bob Heinith, a tribal official who viewed the opinion at agency offices earlier this week, disagreed.

Deepening the river could allow salt water to flow farther upstream, he said, and that could affect the timing and location of the physiological changes salmon undergo when they move from their freshwater birthplace to the ocean.

Costs and benefits are being evaluated. Washington and Oregon environmental agencies must sign off, and the Corps of Engineers and sponsoring ports have to persuade Congress to pay most of the cost.


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