Columbia River Improvement Closer
by Washington Wheat Commission
WHEAT LIFE, March 2002
Deepening the Lower Columbia river channel from 40 to 43 feet crossed another hurdle as the U.S. Army corps of Engineers presented its biological assessment for the project. It is estimated that 60 percent of the approximate 100-mile long navigation channel from Astoria to Portland will require dredge work at an estimated project cost of $183.6 million. deepening is necessary to accommodate the new generation of larger, highly efficient, fully loaded deep draft vessels. The current 40-foot depth restricts 75 percent of those container ships calling ports in Portland and other Columbia River ports along with over half of the grain-carrying bulk fleet.
From an economic standpoint, the Columbia River is the number one export gateway of U.S. wheat and the second largest agricultural gateway in the world, according to the Columbia River Channel Coalition. In contrast, the Mississippi River handles the largest volume of agricultural exports in the world through ports in the area of New Orleans. The channel depth is maintained at a level of 45 feet.
Environmentally, the deepening project will restore 125 acres of wildlife habitat, improve 38 miles of spawning streams and enhance circulation for migrating salmon in shallow water areas. The Corps says there will be some short-tem effects on the river system, but that the project can be completed without negative effects to salmonid populations. A final biological opinion that will determine if endangered species will be jeopardized by the project is expected to be issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in March 2002.
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