Decision Clears Way for
by Mitch Lies
A federal judge in Seattle on June 15 removed one of the final barriers clogging the start of a Columbia River deepening project when he rebuffed arguments by environmentalists that the project imperiled endangered salmon runs.
In a case brought by Northwest Environmental Advocates, U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez ruled that the federal government properly analyzed the project's impacts on salmon habitat.
The decision clears the way for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to start lowering the channel from 40 feet to 43 feet from the river's mouth near Astoria to Portland. The Corps was scheduled to start the project earlier this week.
Port officials say lowering the channel is critical to attracting and retaining carrier service to inland ports.
"This is the decision we've been awaiting and it validates what we've been saying all along: that this is an environmentally sound project," said Ken O'Hollaren, president of the Columbia River Channel Coalition and executive director of the Port of Longview.
The ruling came one day after the U.S. Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee approved $15 million to deepen the river's 600-foot-wide river channel. Project supporters had asked for $40 million, but said they were pleased with the $15 million appropriation. It matched the amount appropriated by the U.S. House and the amount requested by President Bush in his 2006 budget.
"We're confident this is the number we will be seeing in fiscal year 2006," O'Hollaren said, "and we have to be very pleased with that in today's extremely tight budgetary climate."
O'Hollaren said last week's combination of events was a milestone for a project that was initiated with a feasibility study in 1989 and has struggled to gain footing ever since.
No completion date has been set for the project.
The Northwest Environmental Advocates claimed in the suit it brought in April 2004, that the deepening project would harm salmon habitat and induce erosion.
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