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Channel Funds Clear Another Key Hurdle

by Mitch Lies, Oregon Staff Writer
Capital Press, November 11, 2005

A congressional conference committee on Nov. 7 allocated $15 million over the next 12 months to continue a Columbia River deepening project started this summer. The committee also in the 2006 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill allocated $17 million to repair jetties at the mouth of the Columbia.

Columbia River Channel Coalition Board President Ken O'Hollaren praised the Northwest congressional delegation for backing the project, singling out committee members Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash.; Larry Craig, R-Idaho; Conrad Burns, R-Mont.; and Reps. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and Denny Rehberg, R-Mont.

"With both House and Senate committee members agreeing to $15 million for deepening, it's obvious that Congress understands how important this project is to our region's economy," O'Hollaren said in a prepared statement.

Project backers said deepening the 103-mile shipping channel from 40 to 43 feet will help Columbia River ports attract business. A deeper channel will enable bulk ships to carry an additional 6,000 tons of grain per load and allow container ships to carry hundreds of additional containers.

"It makes a huge difference," said Columbia River Channel Coalition Executive Director Dave Hunt. "The reason the Port of Portland has lost container carriers recently is because we have channel depth restrictions and because we have far lower imports than exports. This funding will fully address the first concern, and while it doesn't fully solve the import problem, it helps. The way you can attract more container carriers is to attract more imports. And the way you attract more imports is to have a deeper channel."

The Port of Portland lost two container carriers this past year that made up 56 percent of the port's container business.

Hunt said that because of the project, the port is already gaining back business.

Hanjin Shipping, he said, has added new lines and expanded service to the Port of Portland because of assurances the project is moving forward. And the potash exporter Canpotex recently committed to invest $12 million in its Port of Portland export facilities, he said.

Channel deepening construction started in June under a combination of state and federal funds. Congress allocated $9 million in federal appropriations for the project in the 2005 budget. Washington and Oregon have appropriated a combined $55.4 million for the project. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is on track to deepen 25 miles of the channel by the end of the year and is expected to complete another 18 to 20 miles next year, according to Heidi Helwig, public affairs specialist with the Corps of Engineers.

Project backers said this week they are confident the Senate and House will pass the 2006 spending bill and that President Bush will sign it into law, in part because budget writers in both chambers and Bush included $15 million in federal appropriations for the project in their proposed budgets. There was a time, however, when the funding was in jeopardy.

"There was a point where because of the war and security issues and the Gulf Coast tragedy, we were concerned we weren't going to get the $15 million," said Theeme Holznagel, assistant director of the Columbia River Channel Coalition. "We're very pleased to get that amount."

Backers were surprised to receive $17 million for jetty work to repair two locations of the south jetty that are at risk of failure.

"Senator Murray did a great job of holding her line on that," Hunt said. Murray inserted the $17 million for repairs in the Senate version of the appropriations bill. Jetty repair funding, however, was not included in the House or in the president's proposed budget, he said.

Mitch Lies, Oregon Staff Writer
Channel Funds Clear Another Key Hurdle
Capital Press, November 11, 2005

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