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New Spending Bill Cuts Bush Proposal for Columbia Dredging

by Matthew Daly, Associated Press
Seattle Post-Intelligencer - November 22, 2004

WASHINGTON -- A massive spending bill approved by Congress includes hundreds of millions of dollars for the Pacific Northwest for projects ranging from deepening the Columbia River to renovation of the old federal courthouse in Seattle.

The bill includes $9 million for the Columbia dredging - short of the $15 million President Bush promised during an August campaign visit to Oregon, but more than the $3 million approved earlier this year by the House.

Chad Kolton, a spokesman for the White House budget office, called the channel deepening project a victim of a tight budget, but said the administration believes it received enough money to go forward.

"The administration supports dredging of the Columbia River and ... we will come back to the Congress next year for the resources we need," Kolton said.

The $388 billion appropriations bill, approved over the weekend, covers most domestic programs for the budget year that began Oct. 1. The measure is one of the leanest in years and includes a nearly 1 percent across-the-board cut in most line items.

Despite that, and the bill's tardiness, lawmakers from both parties hailed it as funding vital programs.

"From Bellingham to Spokane, from Walla Walla to Vancouver and throughout the Puget Sound region, this money will help improve the quality of life for all Washingtonians by improving our transportation infrastructure, investing in research and protecting our environment," Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a statement.

"The projects funded in this bill will help protect and create more jobs for Oregonians while providing a boost to our economy," added Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore.

Smith said he was pleased the bill includes $10 million for youth suicide prevention efforts, as part of the new Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, named in honor of his son, who committed suicide in 2003. The law authorizes up to $82 million over three years for states, Indian tribes, colleges and universities to develop suicide prevention and intervention programs.

The bill also includes $50 million for the Seattle courthouse project, as well $80 million for a Seattle area light-rail transit line and $90 million for the Pacific Salmon Recovery Fund. Washington will receive $25 million and Oregon $13 million.

The Columbia dredging project, which would deepen a 103-mile shipping channel from Portland to the Pacific Ocean, has been contentious for years. Merchant carriers, farmers and ranchers have argued the channel must be deepened to accommodate newer, larger ships, while environmentalists counter that dredging would damage habitat for endangered fish.

Lawmakers from both parties support the project and had roundly praised Bush's funding request. Several said Monday they were disappointed that the final bill did not include the full $15 million.

"Obviously there will have to be more funding to allow actual dredging to begin, and they'll continue to work on that," said Carol Guthrie, a spokeswoman for Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

"I hope the president will urge his partys leaders in the House to get on board for the benefit of the entire region," Murray added.

The old Seattle courthouse, which was recently replaced, will be turned over to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2007, after an extensive renovation to improve its security and fickle heating system, among other things.

The budget also includes $80 million to continue construction of a 14-mile light rail system from downtown Seattle to just north of the Seattle Tacoma International Airport. The Federal Transit Administration has committed $500 million for the project, which has already received $150 million in previous appropriations.

Other projects funded in the bill include $9 million for the Wilsonville-Beaverton Commuter Rail line in Oregon; $27 million for the Klamath Project in the drought-stricken Klamath River Basin; $13.5 million to remove dams from the Elwha River in Washington state; and $23 million to extend light-rail service to north Portland.

The spending bill also includes more than $2 billion for the continued cleanup at the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington state. The money will support a waste treatment plant and other efforts along the Columbia River, meeting requirements of an agreement governing the cleanup, the largest such project in the nation.

Matthew Daly, Associated Press
New Spending Bill Cuts Bush Proposal for Columbia Dredging
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 22, 2004

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