Compromise Bill would Allocate
by Matthew Daly, Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- House and Senate negotiators agreed Wednesday to set aside $3.5 million for a project to deepen the Columbia River shipping channel.
The money was included in a huge bill financing energy and water projects for the budget year that began Oct. 1. Lawmakers hope to push the $27.3 billion measure through Congress in the next few days.
The bill also includes $15 million for salmon recovery in the Columbia and Snake rivers and $85 million for Columbia River fish mitigation to be shared among Washington state, Oregon and Idaho.
The money for the Columbia deepening project represents a compromise between the House, which had approved $2 million for the project, and the Senate, which had set aside $5 million.
Project leaders had initially sought $20 million for the current budget year, but called $3.5 million significant progress. President Bush had not requested any money for the project in the current budget because of an administration policy of not starting new projects so it can reduce a public works backlog.
The Columbia project has been planned for years and has received some federal money - including $2 million in the fiscal year that just ended - but is considered "new" because no dredging contracts have been awarded, administration officials have said.
Even so, the project has bipartisan support from lawmakers across the Northwest.
"Improving the Columbia River will mean more jobs and economic development for our region," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. "I am proud to have led the fight for this critical funding in the Senate and I continue to hope that dredging will become a priority for the administration as well."
The $134 million project would deepen the river by 3 feet, to 43 feet, allowing for the larger cargo ships Columbia River ports say will boost their competitiveness. The 103-mile project would serve Portland and five ports downriver.
Critics say dredging would destroy habitat for endangered salmon in the sensitive river estuary and further erode Oregon and Washington beaches, and could run afoul of state and federal water quality standards.
They also suggest that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the project, overestimated the economic benefits and underestimated the effect on nature in a recent report. The corps has defended its research.
A corps spokesman has said the agency will work with whatever level of funding Congress provides.
Dredging is supposed to begin next year and be finished by 2007.
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