President Bush Promises Fundingby CBB Staff
President Bush visited the Port of Portland in Oregon today and announced his support for the proposal to deepen 104 miles of the Columbia River navigation channel -- from the mouth of the Columbia River to Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington.
To begin this work, Bush said he will submit to Congress a $15 million amendment to his fiscal year 2005 budget request for the Columbia River Channel Deepening Project.
"I urge Congress to act quickly on my budget request," Bush said.
He called the down payment on what is a $150.5 million project "an important new step to enhance the vitality of this river."
"We'll start moving mud next year," Bush told the crowd gathered at the port's terminal 6. The president was introduced by college classmate Steve Corey, a Pendleton, Ore., wheat grower and Port of Portland commissioner. Bush pointed out that more wheat is shipped on the Columbia River than on any other river, and that by deepening the channel by 3 feet, each ship will able to carry an additional 60,000 tons of the grain. Allowing access to such deeper draft ships will put Portland back on par with other deep draft ports, he said.
Bush spent most of his five-minute speech touting the economic merits of the channel deepening plan. He said that years ago most ships required a draft of only 25-30 feet. Newer, larger versions, however, require 41-45 feet. That channel is maintained at 40 feet deep.
"That's the problem. It's not deep enough. The Port of Portland is at a competitive disadvantage," Bush said. The deepening is needed "protect and restore really good paying jobs." Corey pointed out that there are 40,000 Columbia River maritime jobs.
The president said he was "committed to keeping the Columbia River open to commerce and trade."
The full text of the president's remarks can be found at www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/08/20040813-3.html
In a background statement issue today, the White House said the Office of Management and Budget has now completed its review of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' plan for the Columbia River Channel Deepening Project and found it to be justified.
Bush noted that the Northwest congressional delegation and project sponsors have come out in strong support for the project, which they say is needed compete with other West Coast ports and to create jobs. Oregon's Sen. Gordon Smith's and Greg Walden and Washington's Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. George Nethercutt attended the Friday speech.
The project cleared what might be its final administrative hurdle June 23, when the Corps and five lower Columbia River sponsoring ports signed a project cooperation agreement. The agreement outlines the expectations and responsibilities for each participant in the $150.5 million channel improvement project. The project proposes to deepen the lower 104 miles of the Columbia River navigation channel from 40 feet to 43 feet.
With the agreement in place, the states of Washington and Oregon were able to chip in $27.7 million each as their share of the project's cost, or about 36 percent of the project's total cost. While the Corps has said in congressional testimony in March that it needs $15 million for the project in fiscal year 2005, it didn't actually request the funds in its FY 2005 budget, said the Corp's Matt Rabe.
Still, the House Appropriations Committee in its Energy and Water bill passed in June appropriated $3 million to the deepening project. Until now, Bush had not included any dollars for the project in his FY 2005 budget while awaiting an Office of Management and Budget project review.
Prior to FY 2005, Congress had appropriated a total of $10 million for deepening the channel and there is $3.6 million of that money still available for work on ecosystem restoration projects this summer. The Corps already has spent $6.4 million on reconsultation for a biological opinion on the project, studies, plans and specifications, the Record of Decision and for this project cooperation agreement.
The Corps will begin in September 2004 work on ecosystem and wildlife mitigation projects that are connected with the deepening project. One of its first ecosystem projects will be to return Walker and Lord islands in the Columbia River to their natural state. Currently, the islands are connected due to dumping of dredged spoils from previous dredging operations. In addition, it will begin work at Webb Island to mitigate for wildlife habitat damage that is expected to occur once the Corps begins the channel deepening work, Rabe said.
The Corps has scheduled dredging to begin next summer (2005) and be completed in 2007.
Conservationists say the project will harm the Columbia River's threatened and endangered salmon, and that the economic analysis that justifies the project is unsound and that its economic benefits are questionable.
"Aside from the environmental impacts of the project-- which are considerable-- the economic case for the Columbia River dredging project has not been made," said David Moryc, Lower Columbia River coordinator for American Rivers. "The Corps' own experts are concerned that 'benefits' of the project will flow only to foreign-owned shipping conglomerates with no guarantee of benefits for the Northwest."
Moryc contends that the project will impact shallow water wetlands and tidelands that are critical to the 12 species of salmon and steelhead populations listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, as well as having an impact on crab and sturgeon found in the river and in the ocean outside the river's mouth. In addition, he said, dredging would make existing water quality problems worse.
"We simply cannot roll back these efforts by destroying essential salmon habitat with an economically wasteful and environmentally harmful project," he said.
These are some of the same assertions made earlier this year by the Northwest Environmental Advocates, which filed a lawsuit challenging NOAA Fisheries' biological opinions of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer's dredging operations in the lower Columbia River and at the river's mouth. In mid-June NWEA amended its complaint to include the Corps in the lawsuit, challenging its environmental processes under the National Environmental Policy Act. It particularly challenged the Corps' Columbia River channel improvement project.
The complaint, which was filed with U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour in Seattle, challenges the Corps' Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision for the agency's Columbia River channel improvement project, which was completed in January. It said that NEPA requires that the Corps looks at the past, present and future impacts of actions, and that the Corps failed to analyze all the environmental impacts of the project and so has misrepresented the economic costs and benefits of the project. That lawsuit is in progress.
Bush said today he was confident that that the federal and state agencies involved in the process had provided adequate safeguards for the environment.
"The goal has been to leave the Columbia River ecosystem in better shape than we found it. I'm confident we can meet that goal," Bush said.
The president said politicians, and the federal agencies involved, need to keep the pressure on to finally make the project a reality. Project proponents have steered it though a legal and bureaucratic maze over the past few years.
He said wanted the agencies to "hear it clearly. We expect this to go forward."
Along with the Corps, project sponsors in the Columbia River channel improvement project are the Washington ports of Kalama, Longview, Vancouver and Woodland, and the Port of Portland, which also signed for the Port of St. Helens.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Portland District: www.nwp.usace.army.mil
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