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Corps Moves on Dredging

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, August 8, 2003

Court still may halt action

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is preparing to dredge the Lower Snake River reservoirs this winter despite a court order halting the action.

The corps released a new plan and environmental impact statement to dredge the shipping channel, ports and recreation areas in the Lower Snake River last week and announced the release Thursday.

A spokeswoman said the agency is moving forward with its planning process so work to deepen the shipping channel to 14 feet can proceed as soon as a court case is resolved.

"If we waited and the court made a decision that allowed us to dredge, we would not have time to do all the paperwork to be able to do it by the time our window came up," said Gina Schwetz at Walla Walla.

The work has to be done between Dec. 15 and March 1, known as a work window, when there are fewer threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead moving through the river.

The National Wildlife Federation, other environmental groups and Indian tribes sued the corps last year over its 20-year plan to dredge the Lower Snake River and use the dredge spoils to create fish habitat.

The groups said the work would harm threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead and claimed the corps did not explore other options that might have precluded the need to dredge.

U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik agreed and told the corps it couldn't do any dredging until the case is resolved.

Environmental groups are studying the new proposals and say they will seek another injunction if they believe the plan has the potential to harm endangered fish.

"If they are proposing the same old stuff for the coming winter, I can't imagine how they would think the conservation community would let them get away with that and I can't imagine how they would figure a judge would let them get away with that," said Bill Sedivy, executive director of Idaho Rivers United at Boise.

Project manager Jack Sands at Walla Walla said the new plan covers just one year of dredging work and would clear the shipping channel and other areas of sediment that have the potential to hamper barge traffic.

Spoils from the dredging would be deposited in the Lower Granite Reservoir to create shallow water habitat for fish. Sands said the new plan includes additional environmental analysis that was not in the 20-year plan.

"What we have done is tried to provide additional supporting information and additional documentation that was not included as part of our original EIS (environmental impact statement) and we feel will help defend our position that one year of dredging this winter will not harm any of the endangered species within the river."

Continued accumulation of sediment behind the Lower Snake River dams has made it difficult for tugboat and barge operators to ship goods up and down the river.

Port of Clarkston manager Rick Davis said shallow water at the port could cause one of the cruise ships that docks there to end trips to the Lewiston Clarkston Valley.

Gaylord Newbry of Foss Maritime Company said tug boat operators have to use extra caution while maneuvering barges because birthing areas and parts of the shipping channel have become shallow. In some cases barges are not loaded to capacity.

"If you look at, it's like not being able to fill your truck clean full. It still costs the same to get it in and out, and it will cost the farmer in the long run," he said.

Eric Barker
Corps Moves on Dredging
Lewiston Tribune, August 8, 2003

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