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Channel Project Bears Watching

by Editors
Opinion, Portland Business Journal, July 15, 2005

The Port of Portland and its Columbia River port peers are finally beginning to get what they want -- a deeper channel -- but it's still not clear whether the project will end up helping the region.

We've all heard the arguments for deepening the channel that runs from Astoria to Portland from its current depth of 40 feet to a depth of 43 feet.

The primary argument in favor of the massive project is that it will make the Columbia ports more competitive.

Today's container ships are bigger and need deeper channels. But coverage both in our paper and in The Oregonian has cast severe doubts on whether the project will deliver the expected economic benefits.

The Port of Portland and its ilk may be as much the victims of international trade trends as of a substandard shipping channel.

But, as Port of Portland Executive Director Bill Wyatt points out, a lot has changed in the years since the $148 million project was first debated.

Some carriers, such as those that haul mineral bulk cargo, have told the port they could increase business tomorrow if the channel was deepened. That's because of China's demand for such products. On the import front, cargo haulers are facing costly delays at other West Coast ports and might use Portland as a safety valve if waits are too long in Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif.

But Oregonians need to watch this process carefully and hold the proponents responsible if the project doesn't deliver economic benefits and if the environment is damaged. One concern is that dredge spoils disposed of at sea could smother crab beds. Others worry about the effect on already beleaguered salmon runs.

Backers are betting the reward is worth the rise, and we need to be ready to call their bluff.

Channel Project Bears Watching
Portland Business Journal, July 15, 2005

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