by Mitch Lies
An environmental group last week appealed a June 15 federal court decision that allowed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin deepening a 103-mile stretch of the Columbia River. Dredging advocates, however, said they expect the project to continue as planned.
The appeal, filed Aug. 11 in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals by Northwest Environmental Advocates, challenges the corps' cost assessment of repairing jetties at the opening of the channel and claims the dredging is causing erosion on Oregon and Washington beaches. The advocates also contend that federal agencies failed to take into consideration that contaminated sediments could be released during the dredging.
"The channel-deepening project is bad news for everyone in the Northwest and especially for fishermen, their families and the communities that depend on restoring wild salmon for their economic future," said Todd True, an attorney with Earthjustice, which is representing the environmental advocates in the appeal.
The environmental advocates earlier filed suit in U.S. District Court in Seattle seeking to block the corps from deepening the river from 40 to 43 feet -- a project designed to accommodate new, larger shipping vessels. That suit was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez. Dave Hunt, director of the Columbia River Channel Coalition, said he expects the appeal also to be routinely dismissed.
Hunt said that the environmental group is dredging up the same issues it used in U.S. District Court -- issues the court already has dismissed as unfounded.
"Frankly, these are the same issues they've been raising for 10 years," Hunt said. "It is hard to imagine that there will be any delay in this important project."
The project recently got under way after Congress allocated $15 million to it for fiscal year 2005. The project, which is expected to cost $150 million when completed, is in line to receive $15 million in federal appropriations in 2006. Matching state funds from Oregon and Washington coffers already are dedicated to the project.
Hunt said Martinez "left no caveats or asterisks or conditions" in dismissing the environmental lawsuit in June, and, he said: "I don't see any grounds for a successful appeal.
"This decision was just a clear affirmation of the project and the regulatory approval that it received."
Hunt acknowledged that the jetties are deteriorating and that erosion is occurring on Oregon and Washington beaches, but, he said, scientists have determined the channel deepening project has no bearing on these occurrences. He also disputed claims from the environmental advocates that the project is releasing contaminated sediments from the bottom of the river.
"Ten years ago that was an unfounded allegation," he said. "Today we can say it is a disproven allegation."
Hunt added that the Northwest's congressional delegation currently is trying to obtain funding for jetty repairs in federal appropriations separate from the dredging project.
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