Patience is a quality farmers and other shippers that use the Columbia River know well. Since 1988, plans for deepening the channel of the Columbia River have been proposed, debated, studied and studied again.
Now, 17 years later, the project is moving along about as quickly as could be expected, considering the bleak federal budget picture and the glacial pace of Congress, which must appropriate 65 percent of the project's costs. The states of Oregon and Washington have already appropriated the remaining 35 percent of the project, whose overall cost is $150.5 million.
Critics are eager to point out at every juncture that the project is "behind schedule," but those who understand how the federal government works also understand that, many times, such projects are an exercise in patience.
All one has to do is take a look at the many hurdles supporters of the project have already had to overcome, and it's obvious that any progress is good. A procession of lawsuits, studies and impact statements have all tested the project's viability, yet it still moves forward.
Most recently, it was reported that the energy and water subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee had approved President George W. Bush's request for $15 million in next year's budget. Though the amount is less than the $40 million included in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers schedule for the work, it is certainly a step forward for the project and represents a 66 percent increase over last year's appropriation.
It also presents an opportunity for the Northwest congressional delegation to assert its unanimous support for the project as the bill makes its way through the legislative process.
As Congress considers the investment in improving the Northwest's transportation system, two factors remain:
The irony is that the river has been dredged before. In 1860, the channel was deepened to 25 feet. Since then, it has been repeatedly deepened over the years until the current 40-foot channel depth was reached in the early 1970s. This is just the latest effort to keep the river and its ports viable in a modern world of larger ships.
Last year, the governors of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana, the four states' U.S. senators and their representatives to the U.S. House all sent letters of support to the White House urging that the dredging be fully funded.
Maybe it's time for them to send a reminder to the White House and to congressional budget writers. The need for deepening the channel will only continue to increase as the years go by.
As will the cost.
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