Agreement may settle dredging challenge

Tuesday, October 7, 2003

By ERIK ROBINSON, Columbian staff writer

Vancouver, WA - A dispute between the Port of Vancouver and its longtime nemesis, industrialist and bird-watcher Paul King, may finally come to an end in an agreement to be announced today at the port.

The port on Monday announced a special meeting of its Board of Commissioners at noon today "for the purpose of taking action on an agreement relative to litigation, claims and development of the Columbia Gateway and channel deepening projects."

The port and the organization founded by King, Columbia River Alliance for Nurturing the Environment, have been involved in litigation for years over the port's industrial development projects. King is the former chairman of Vanalco, the now-defunct company that operated an aluminum plant next to the port.

Most recently, King's group filed a legal challenge over the state Department of Ecology's endorsement of a proposal to deepen the Columbia River for bigger modern ships.

The challenge was a significant hurdle before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could start the $148 million project to dredge the 103-mile shipping channel from 40 to 43 feet.

The state Pollution Control Hearings Board had temporarily overturned Ecology's certification of the project, until a full hearing that was due to start Monday. Late last week, the board delayed the hearing until Wednesday after attorneys for CRANE asked for a delay while they negotiated a settlement.

King's attorney, Eric Merrifield of Seattle, did not return calls Friday or Monday.

Larry Paulson, director of the Port of Vancouver, said no agreement will be signed until today and offered no further comment about the negotiations. He acknowledged the seriousness of the appeal now before the hearings board, but said channel deepening already has won the endorsement of other state and federal environmental regulators.

"I still think the case for the channel deepening is a solid one," he said.

Federal law requires the corps to receive the blessing of environmental regulators in both Washington and Oregon. They got it on June 23, when state regulators issued written confirmations that the dredging proposal is consistent with the Coastal Zone Management Act and certified under the federal Clean Water Act.

But Seattle-based CRANE appealed Washington's decision.

The organization cited the Department of Ecology's own past proclamations that argued the project would worsen coastal erosion and destroy Dungeness crab habitat by creating a new ocean disposal site.


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