by Associated Press
LEWISTON, Idaho -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has approved a plan to dredge tons of riverbed silt from the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers on the Idaho-Washington border to improve access to inland ports for oceangoing barges.
But environmentalists say the decision by the corps could trigger a repeat of previously successful court challenges to the plan.
"The record of decision represents the third time in four years that the corps has trotted out the same exact plan that will harm salmon, harm communities and fails to grapple with the serious problems of sediment buildup in Lower Granite Reservoir," said Jan Hassleman of the National Wildlife Federation in Seattle, which advocates breaching dams on the lower Snake River system to improve salmon migration.
In 2002, a federal judge in Seattle stopped a similar dredging plan by ruling that the work would threaten salmon under the Endangered Species Act. In 2004, the judge determined that the corps had not considered alternatives to dredging. A corps plan to increase the height of riverbank levees by 3 feet to allow more water to pool behind Lower Granite Dam was also defeated in court.
The corps is authorized by Congress to maintain a shipping channel to the inland ports of Lewiston and Clarkston that is 250 feet wide and 14 feet deep. Soil and sand particles carried downstream by currents are deposited when the river slows and becomes slack water behind the dams. Because of the buildup, the channel depth has decreased to 8.5 feet at Clarkston and 10.6 feet at Lewiston.
This spring, two grain barges had to be pulled loose after getting stuck in the ports, and shippers have been forced to reduce loads to compensate for the shallow depths.
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