Corps Will Cut Dredging Project
by Brent Hunsberger
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awards a contract
for 13 out of a total 103 miles to start deepening the Columbia
Three weeks after being surprised by bids that far exceeded cost estimates, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has awarded a scaled-down contract to begin deepening the Columbia River shipping channel.
But the newly awarded contract calls for about half as much deepening as the corps originally hoped to complete this year, casting doubt on the agency's ability to hit the project's target completion date of 2007.
Corps officials announced Friday that the agency had given an $8.74 million contract to Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. of Oak Brook, Ill., to maintain the river's 40-foot-deep shipping channel and deepen a 13-mile stretch by 3 feet
The decision officially launches efforts to deepen 103 miles of the channel between Astoria and Portland, a goal of the river's six shipping ports for more than a decade. Deepening the length of the channel to 43 feet would allow ships to load more fully and cut operating costs, proponents say.
The project was thrown into limbo last month when the lowest bid came in at $30.7 million, 69 percent higher than the corps' estimate of $18.2 million. That proposal called for deepening 25 miles of the river's shipping channel, along with maintenance dredging done each summer to clear the river's mouth and channel of silt that accumulates over the year.
Corps officials responded by requesting new bids for the project, trimming nine miles of deepening from the proposal. This time, the low bid from Great Lakes was $10.58 million -- 17.9 percent higher than corps' $8.97 million estimate.
The corps again cut the contract's scope, calling for deepening only a 13-mile stretch near Astoria. But the final contract leaves open the possibility of allowing Great Lakes to deepen as many as 10 miles of the river near Portland for more money later this summer, agency spokesman Matt Rabe said.
Great Lakes will begin maintenance dredging after June 1, Rabe said. The company and the corps are still working out start dates for actual deepening, Rabe said.
Nina Bell, director of Northwest Environmental Advocates, a Portland nonprofit that has sued to prevent the dredging, said the corps was acting imprudently by "taking out expensive pieces and putting them off to another day."
"I'm not sure why they wouldn't just tell the public they've grossly underestimated the cost," said Bell, who also thinks the corps has overstated the project's benefits.
The corps says the entire 103-mile deepening project will cost $150.5 million. Washington and Oregon together have committed about $55 million for the project, but Congress has appropriated only $9 million. President Bush has proposed an additional $15 million for 2006, but proponents say the project needs $40 million next year to stay on schedule.
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