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Corps Gives Dredging Plan Another Try

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, March 9, 2005

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is again taking a run at dredging the silt-clogged shipping channel of the Lower Snake River.

The agency released a draft plan Tuesday to remove sediment from five low spots on the river, including the berthing areas of the ports of Lewiston and Clarkston.

"It does fill in with sediment and it needs to be dredged," said corps spokeswoman Nola Conway at Walla Walla. "It's necessary to maintain the navigation system and the public port berthing areas."

The corps is proposing removing up to 450,000 cubic yards of sediment and using it to create shallow water habitat for young salmon in other areas of the river.

The agency has been trying to dredge the river since 2000. It was stopped that year when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration asked for more studies on the possible impacts to threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead. In subsequent years, environmental groups have halted the dredging plans by filing lawsuits charging salmon and steelhead would be harmed.

A spokesman for one of the groups said Tuesday salmon advocates would study the agency's latest plan with critical eyes and again ask a judge to stop the dredging if fish could be harmed.

"The problem for the corps in general is they continue to look through the short-term lens and do long-term damage to salmon and steelhead fisheries," said John Kober of the National Wildlife Federation at Seattle.

The federation continues to back breaching the dams as the best way to recover salmon and steelhead. Kober repeated the group's contention that removing the dams and investing in affected communities would be cheaper than spending an estimated $6 billion to help fish pass the dams and also paying for annual dam maintenance costs estimated at $25 million.

Kober denies the groups are trying to cripple barge transportation in an effort to make the dams appear obsolete.

"It's not about compelling dam removal. It's about legitimate concerns in the short term about what the agency is doing."

According to the corps' dredging plan, the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers has become increasingly clogged with fine silts and sand. The berthing area of the port of Clarkston is as shallow as 8.5 feet, and the turning basin at the Port of Lewiston is only 10.6 feet deep.

That causes shippers to light-load barges during times of the year when the reservoir is held at low levels to help juvenile salmon and steelhead reach the ocean.

A judge stopped the corps' previous attempts to dredge the river because he ruled it did not consider other alternatives, such as limiting the amount of sediments that reach the river.

This time the corps considered, but dismissed that strategy saying it would not immediately solve the sediment problem. It also considered using drawdowns to flush the sediments from the shipping channel. The agency found the flushing strategy would not deepen the channel to the 14-foot depth mandated by Congress.

Eric Barker
Corps Gives Dredging Plan Another Try
Lewiston Tribune, March 9, 2005

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