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Channel Deepening:
Economically, Ecologically and Legally Sound

by Dave Hunt
The Oregonian, May 25, 2004

Nina Bell's commentary criticizing the Columbia River Channel Improvement Project ("Why Columbia River channel deepening is terribly shortsighted," May 3) is replete with false facts and extreme arguments.

In reality, Northwest businesses and farmers critically need a 43-foot-deep navigation channel to fully load and transport cargo from local communities to global markets on today's larger ships. Oregon and Washington are among the top eight most trade-dependent states in America. More than 40,000 jobs -- averaging $46,000 in wages per year -- depend on Columbia River maritime commerce to transport $14 billion of goods each year.

In reality, the Northwest congressional delegation does strongly support channel deepening and repairs to the deteriorating jetties at the mouth of the Columbia River, dredging of smaller harbors to keep them viable, and repairing the locks and dams on the upper Columbia and Snake rivers. Nina Bell and her group haven't done anything to address these important maintenance projects, but port, business, labor union, agricultural, maritime, community and congressional leaders have been fully engaged in finding balanced solutions.

Unfortunately, there are extremists who don't actually want to find solutions to the challenges facing our region. Some economic extremists care only about what's good for business, regardless of the environmental cost. Some environmental extremists only care about what's good for ecology, regardless of the impact on our economy and jobs.

Fortunately, most Oregonians and Washingtonians favor balance over extremism.

A broad-based group of more than 200 business, agricultural, labor union and community groups have come together to support such balanced solutions. Every week, more rural and urban groups step forward to support the Columbia River Channel Improvement Project, which will benefit both our economy and our environment.

This project will provide $18.8 million annually in transportation cost savings to businesses and farmers shipping their cargo internationally. Every dollar spent on project construction will yield $1.66 in economic benefit. At the same time, the project includes several eco-system restoration projects that will go above-and-beyond mitigation to leave the river and estuary in better condition than today.

Every federal, Oregon, and Washington state environmental agency has carefully reviewed and approved the project. Full state matching funds have been approved by the legislatures and governors in Washington and Oregon. Congress has already appropriated $10 million.

Sadly, the lawsuit filed by Nina Bell's group to stop channel deepening reveals her true intentions: limiting or ending all dredging on the river. They want to stop the yearly operations and maintenance dredging that ensures the viability of the current navigation channel and stops future progress. They are trying to cut off the Northwest's transportation lifeline to world markets.

Lawsuits like the one filed by Nina Bell's group cost the federal government millions of dollars every year to defend. If environmental extremists would stop filing frivolous lawsuits, we would have far more dollars to address critical project construction and maintenance needs.

Rather than wasting scarce resources fighting frivolous lawsuits, we should acknowledge that 15 years of planning, engineering, design, research, public hearings, project changes, economic analysis and environmental reviews have created a balanced project. We need a deeper channel to maintain the viability of our marine transportation system, which is the lowest-cost, most fuel-efficient and least polluting mode of transportation.

I commend Northwest congressional members for strongly supporting both the construction of the channel project and ongoing system maintenance. Our entire region must work together to enhance our infrastructure and good jobs for our economy.

A decade of rigorous analysis has proven that the channel project is economically, environmentally and legally sound.

Related Sites:
Columbia River Channel Coalition

Dave Hunt serves as executive director of the Columbia River Channel Coalition.
Channel Deepening: Economically, Ecologically and Legally Sound
The Oregonian, May 25, 2004

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