New Bids Renew Shot at Dredging the Columbiaby Alex Pulaski
The Oregonian, April 30, 2005
By curtailing the project's first phase, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
has secured a low enough bid to begin work
Two weeks after being surprised by bids far exceeding cost estimates, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened new bids Friday that could allow long-planned deepening of the Columbia River to proceed.
Originally, the corps designed a plan to deepen the first portion of the river's shipping channel from 40 to 43 feet and perform regularly scheduled maintenance dredging. The corps estimated the work would cost $18.2 million, but when two bids were opened April 12, the lowest bid came in 69 percent higher at $30.7 million.
Because the lowest bid exceeded estimates by more than 25 percent, federal rules prevented the corps from accepting it.
Instead, the agency last week significantly trimmed the project's initial phase, including reducing the stretch being deepened by nine miles. Under the new proposal, deepening from the river's mouth would extend about 16 miles.
The lowest of three bidders Friday was the same low bidder as before, Great Lakes Dredge & Dock of Oak Brook, Ill. The company's bid of $10.58 million was 17.9 percent higher than corps estimates for the work of $8.97 million -- but within the 25 percent cap.
Matt Rabe, a corps spokesman, said the agency intends for work to begin by June 1. He said agency officials were meeting with Great Lakes representatives Friday over details, including where work might begin.
Rabe said before the corps can award a contract to Great Lakes, it needs to make sure the company's bid meets all its requirements.
Nina Bell, executive director of Northwest Environmental Advocates, a Portland nonprofit that has sued to prevent the dredging, said the corps has consistently overrepresented the project's benefits and underestimated its costs.
"In all likelihood, this project is not a good buy for federal taxpayers," she said.
Proponents of deepening, among them the Port of Portland, say greater trade opportunities depend on larger ships passing through the channel.
Congress has appropriated $9 million this year for the project, which is expected to cost $150.5 million.
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