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Commentaries and editorials

$15 Million Allocated to Columbia Dredging

by Jim Barnett
The Oregonian, September 8, 2003

President Bush makes good on a promise to free money
for the controversial project by ordering a transfer

WASHINGTON -- The White House budget office on Tuesday asked Congress to shift $15 million from the Department of Energy to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin deepening the Columbia River shipping channel.

The $15 million would be the first federal installment needed to begin dredging. Work on the $150 million project is slated to begin in the 2005 fiscal year and be completed by 2007.

The budget office made the request under a cover letter from Bush to Dennis Hastert, speaker of the House. The office's request notes that "deepening the channel would allow these ports to operate more efficiently and accommodate up-to-date deep-draft, economical ocean-going ships."

The budget maneuver makes good on President Bush's campaign promise last month to begin work on the $150 million project, which has been stalled by lawsuits and controversy for more than a decade.

By transferring money from an outside agency, the budget office also headed off a fight in Congress. Members typically covet corps projects for their own districts, and they often spar over allocation of the corps' civil works budget.

Shortly after Bush took office in 2001, the budget office said it would not fund new corps projects. But the White House reversed course on the Columbia project, with Bush announcing the $15 million during a campaign appearance at the Port of Portland.

The corps last year justified its plan to deepen the Columbia with an economic analysis showing that the project would help shipping companies save $1.66 in costs for every $1 spent on construction.

But in the months since the corps released its analysis, two of three major container lines serving Portland have announced plans to end service. K-Line and Hyundai together would have reaped nearly half the project's benefits.

Critics have asked the corps to revisit its economic analysis in light of the service cuts. But a spokesman said the corps has no plans to do so and called the cuts "blips" in its long-term projections.

"Shippers have left in the past, and others have stepped in to take their place," said Matt Rabe, a spokesman at the corps' regional headquarters in Portland. "We have no reason to believe this won't happen again."

Jim Barnett
$15 Million Allocated to Columbia Dredging
The Oregonian, September 8, 2003

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