FFA Team Talks Dredging, Sets for Competitionby Cathy Grimes
Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, February 24, 2005
Making their points
With passion and a PowerPoint presentation, seven students argued the merits of dredging the Columbia River at a Port of Walla Walla meeting Wednesday.
The students, all girls, are members of the FFA agricultural issues team from Walla Walla High School. They are polishing their 15-minute debate-style presentation, which they will take to state competition in late spring.
Wa-Hi's agricultural issues teams have developed a winning record, receiving state and national honors in the last four years. Their programs focus on topics with local relevance, such as a proposal to build a winery in an exclusive agriculture zone, and stream flow and irrigation rights on the Walla Walla River.
The current team includes four veterans of the 2004 team, which placed third in national competition last October in Kentucky.
The competitors and their adviser, Arch McHie, said students hone their skills and incorporate public feedback during 15 or more public presentations they make in Walla Walla prior to competition.
"Other teams don't like to see us" McHie said.
Clad in gold-trimmed navy corduroy FFA jackets and black skirts, the girls tackled the pros and cons of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan to dredge 104 miles of the lower Columbia River to deepen the channel by 3 feet. The plan has been in the works since the 1990s and has bipartisan support in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. The Bush administration has included $9 million in its current budget proposal to start the project, which has an estimated state and federal price tag of $150.3 million.
Representing the pro side of the debate, Ciera Christensen and Andi Bughi listed the benefits for area business and agriculture interests and the region's ports, which say dredging will improve the shipping lanes, bringing back traffic that has migrated to other West Coast ports.
"The distance that separates the Columbia River from the world is exactly 3 feet," Christensen said in a calm, measured voice.
The two advocates said the deeper port will improve the economy and make transport of products, including local wheat, hay and animal feed, less expensive.
Christensen said the question is not, "if we build it, will they come?," but "if we don't build it, will they go?"
Her words drew nods from the trio of local Port commissioners listening to the debate.
But Darling Walk and Ashley Mason, both veterans of previous teams, argued against dredging. They cited claims by environmentalists and fisheries advocates that the economic benefits are overstated. Additionally, they said dredging will harm fish habitat and affect salmon runs on the Columbia between the Pacific Ocean and Portland.
After the presentation, Port Executive Director Jim Kuntz asked whether the students were for or against the dredging proposal. The majority were in favor. Walk, arguing against it, said she comes from an agriculture background and now has mixed feelings.
"Taking an opposing view has changed my views on the issue," she said.
Bughi said she was a proponent from the start. "Everybody knew I would have my point of view."
McHie said the girls have been working on the presentation since 2004, meeting at 6:30 a.m. before school, and holding afternoon and meeting study sessions to research and write the debate.
They also developed a computer presentation to accompany and augment the arguments. The team has about a dozen more presentations scheduled in the community before heading to Washington State University in March for state competition.
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