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Port Holds Out Hope for Channel Dredging Funds

by Mike O'Bryant
Columbia Basin Bulletin - September 19, 2003

Funding for a Columbia River channel deepening project to deepen the river's navigation channel from 40 feet to 43 feet failed to meet the criteria of the Bush Administration's no new start policy and therefore was not included in the president's proposed fiscal year 2004 budget.

The project already has received $6.5 million over the past three years and looks like an ongoing project. However, other criteria established by the Office of Management and Budget, including a U.S. Army Corps of Engineer's record of decision that remains to be completed, caused the Corps to exclude the project from its FY 2004 budget request to OMB.

While the exclusion from the president's budget would likely delay the project's start and could push back the project's proposed FY 2006 completion date, the Port of Portland remains confident that enough funding will come through this year to begin some work. Indeed, a Senate energy and water appropriations bill that contains $5 million for the project and a similar House bill that contains $2 million could provide some money to seed the project beginning Oct. 1 this year.

Still, the Port of Portland, which is the lead port with five other lower Columbia River ports -- the ports of Vancouver, Longview, Woodland, Kalama, St. Helen -- said that the project's inclusion in the president's budget would have eased the competition for funds this year.

"It's not of minor significance that it's easier to get money if it's in the President's budget to begin with rather than as an add-on," said Elisa Dozono, spokeswoman for the Port of Portland. "But, that doesn't change our funding strategy. We still feel like we have a lot of momentum."

Dozono pointed to the $5 and $2 million "adders" in the Senate and House energy and water appropriations bills (although the port had asked the Northwest congressional delegation for $20 million), favorable biological opinions from NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon and Washington Coastal Zone Management Act consistency determinations and 401 water quality certifications and a Corps record of decision that will likely be delivered to Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C., in the next couple of weeks, as proof that progress is being made. The project is also due to receive funding from the two states this year (each state agreed to provide $27.7 million to help fund the project).

While the Washington Department of Ecology approval for the project is being challenged in the state's Pollution Control Hearings Board, the Corps has said that the challenge will not delay its ROD delivery.

The Corps submits budget requests one and a half years in advance and it had already determined the project wouldn't meet the president's criteria for no new starts in June 2002 when it submitted to OMB its request for FY 2004 funds. As a consequence, that Corps budget did not include funds for the project, according to Matt Rabe, spokesman for the Corps.

Rabe said the Corps had been provided a March 31, 2002, guidance criteria checklist that defined new starts by the OMB and, by those criteria, the channel project was a new start. Among the criteria is a requirement for a completed ROD, which is near completion but will not be sent to Corps headquarters until later this month. In addition, the project must be at a stage of construction in which contracts would be awarded before the end of the fiscal year.

OMB said the no new starts policy is to ensure adequate funding and progress for projects already in the works. "The more 'new starts' you put into the backlog, the more everything else gets stretched out," Marcus Peacock, an associate director at OMB, told The Oregonian this week. "You never get done, and everybody suffers."

The Corps has already received $6.5 million in two appropriations -- one in 2001 and one in 2003 -- Rabe said, and it has $2 million of that money remaining that it can roll over to use in 2004 and add to whatever funds are appropriated this year by Congress. The money received in 2001 and 2003 was used for the project's second consultation with federal fisheries agencies (the first no-jeopardy biological opinion was rescinded by NOAA Fisheries due to additional biological information and a lawsuit by Northwest Environmental Advocates). It also was used to prepare environmental documents to get clearance for the project from the states, some preliminary work on project design and specifications laying out how the project will be constructed.

If Congress funds the project for $5 million, Rabe said the Corps could use the money to begin work on the ecosystem restoration work, or some baseline monitoring and evaluation work, or some actual construction work.

He said the Corp estimated the project's cost at $132 million in its cost/benefit study, but that with inflation and interest, the final cost would likely be $148 million.

Related Sites:
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Portland District:
Port of Portland:

Mike O'Bryant
Port Holds Out Hope for Channel Dredging Funds
Columbia Basin Bulletin, September 19, 2003

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