Corps Wants to Keep Channel Openby Tribune and Associated Press
Lewiston Tribune, June 19, 2003
Proposal calls for Snake River dredging to take place
during winter while corps looks at other options
SPOKANE -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Wednesday it wants to dredge the shipping channel of the Snake River next winter, even after a federal judge rejected a long-term dredging proposal.
The corps' 20-year plan to dredge the river to maintain a shipping channel from the Pacific Ocean to the port of Lewiston was blocked by U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik of Seattle last December after environmental groups raised concerns.
Lasnik said the government's arguments for not considering other alternatives to dredging were inadequate.
The corps is now creating a new 20-year plan to keep the river channel open, but in the meantime wants to dredge to keep the route open for shipping, said Jack Sands, dredging project manager.
"We're stating that our responsibility is to maintain the navigation channel," Sands said. "Even if we didn't have a dredging plan out there being developed, we would need to do something to respond to the current conditions of the channel."
Port officials have been light-loading barges for more than a year to make sure they don't drag on shallow spots in berthing areas and the shipping channel and have said Lasnik's decision would cause further sediment problems.
The corps said Wednesday it intends to formally study the effects of dredging the river during the winter of 2003-2004.
Environmental groups, who contend that dredging will damage salmon spawning habitat, said they fear the corps will dredge until the new 20-year plan is ready.
Jan Hasselman, a lawyer for the National Wildlife Federation in Seattle, said the judge's order was clear.
"In our view, the law says you can't start dredging until you've gone through the entire planning process," he said.
The federation will probably challenge any attempts to dredge the river, and the corps and the federation will meet with Lasnik again this fall, Hasselman said.
In his decision, Lasnik said the corps did not adequately consider alternatives such as allowing water surges to naturally flush sediments downstream, or using shallower barges.
The corps did not reveal details of its dredging proposal Wednesday, saying it would let the courts decide if the project can proceed.
The corps maintains a 14-foot-deep, 250-foot-wide shipping route from McNary Dam on the Columbia River through four dams on the Snake River. That provides an ocean shipping route all the way to Lewiston.
Grain barges typically travel the waterway.
Those barges have had to take lighter loads to get through some of the shallower parts of the river, said Dave Doeringsfeld, manager of the Port of Lewiston. He said if a solution isn't found, barges will continue to get lighter.
"We have a need to get the dredging done as soon as possible," he said.
Farmers who ship their grain by barge face higher shipping costs as barges are lightened, he said.
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