Corps Rolls Out Dredging Planby Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, December 20, 2003
Environmentalists say the plan doesn't hold water
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is taking comment on its plan to dredge the shipping channel, port, and recreational areas of the Snake River next winter.
Environmental groups say the plan looks nearly identical to the plan a federal judge halted two years ago, and they will go to court again to stop it.
"It's not clear to me why the corps keeps rolling out these one-year plans that are clearly illegal," said Jan Hasselman of the National Wildlife Federation at Seattle.
The dredging plan calls for removing 315,600 cubic yards of sand, silt and cobble from the river bottom and dumping it at another location in Lower Granite Reservoir where it will be used to create habitat for young salmon and steelhead.
A corps spokesman said the plan is different from the one stopped by U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik at Seattle last year.
"The plan we are talking about is a one-year maintenance dredging plan, not the 20-year plan that is tied up in court," said corps spokesman Dutch Meier at Walla Walla.
But Hasselman contends the one-year dredging plan is simply one year's worth of work shaved off the 20-year plan halted by Lasnik.
"You can't take a 20-year plan judged illegal and carve out the first year of that and call it a completely independent action that has no relation to the next 19 years," said Hasselman.
The debate over dredging the shipping channel of the Snake River revolves around controversial efforts to recover salmon and steelhead listed as threatened and endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
Environmentalists contend dredging and dumping of the dredge spoils will harm the fish. They challenged the corps plan on a number of fronts and convinced Lasnik that the corps did not consider alternatives to dredging, such as seasonal drawdowns designed to flush out sediment and better land management to reduce the amount of sediment that reaches the river.
Hasselman's organization favors breaching the lower Snake River dams to recover anadromous fish runs. Removing the dams would end barge traffic made possible by slack water and a system of locks at the dams.
The corps is mandated to maintain a shipping channel in the Snake River that is at least 14-feet deep. Sediment accumulated since the last dredging is filling the shipping channel and making maneuvering in some port berthing areas difficult. The ports of Lewiston and Clarkston have been light-loading barges when water levels are low to make sure they don't scrape bottom. That makes barge transportation less efficient.
The corps tried to perform the dredging the past two years but has run into road blocks. Lasnik stopped dredging planned for the winter of 2002 and 2003 after environmental groups filed their lawsuit.
The corps tried to organize dredging in Lower Granite and Little Goose reservoirs this winter but officials said the necessary paperwork could not be completed before the work was to begin. The dredging has to take place between Dec. 15 and March 1 when there are fewer threatened and endangered juvenile fish using that section of river.
Analysis by the corps has found the dredging and dumping of spoils is likely to adversely affect endangered fish. That finding triggers the need for the National Marine Fisheries Service to look at the plan and decide if the adverse effects can be mitigated. The federal fisheries service is scheduled to release its findings early next year.
The corps is also asking the Washington Department of Ecology to certify the work complies with the federal Clean Water Act, as well as state water quality laws.
The winter maintenance dredging plan can be viewed on the corps Walla Walla district Web site at www.nww.usace.army.mil under the heading "What's Hot."
Comments on the plan are due by Jan. 17.
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