Channel Deepening Appropriationby Mike O'Bryant
An appropriations bill that would fund work by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deepen the Columbia River shipping channel by three feet stalled in the U.S. Senate this week.
That ensures that the $15 million funding for the project promised in September by President George W. Bush will not be approved at least until Congress reconvenes after the Nov. 2 elections.
Although a House of Representatives Energy and Water Appropriations bill passed earlier this summer budgeted $3 million for fiscal year 2005 for the $150.5 million project, the Senate failed this week to pass its version of the bill.
When approved, the Senate bill may include as much as $15 million for the Columbia River dredging project, said Dave Hunt of the Columbia Channel Deepening Coalition. He added that the Senate bill was stalled by a debate among lawmakers to fund the controversial nuclear waste repository at Nevada's Yucca Mountain, not by any controversy over the dredging project.
Last month, President Bush amended his fiscal year 2005 budget to include $15 million for the Corps' channel deepening project, which proposes to deepen 103 miles of the river's navigation channel between Portland and Astoria.
"This bill has completely stalled in the Senate," Hunt said. "All the water parts of the bill are fine, but not the energy parts. Unfortunately, you don't move one part without the other. I still think it will be resolved in the lame duck session."
The hold up in appropriating the funding would only affect the dredging work if the appropriation still is not available in early spring 2005 when the Corps needs to award contracts for the work, said Matt Rabe of the Corps' Portland District.
"Our plan all along was to use any remaining funds to work on the plans and specifications in preparation for the work next summer," Rabe said.
Prior to FY 2005, Congress had appropriated a total of $10 million for deepening the channel. The Corps already has spent $6.4 million on reconsultation for the biological opinion, along with studies, plans and specifications for the project. $3.6 million of that money is still available for work on ecosystem restoration projects.
The Corps completed the first ecosystem project last month when it returned Walker and Lord islands, located north of Rainier, Ore., on the Columbia River, to their natural state, Rabe said. The islands had been connected by dredged spoils left from previous dredging operations.
The Corps will wait until spring to begin work at Webb Island near Westport, Ore. That work will mitigate for the loss of wetlands that is expected to occur once the Corps begins the channel deepening work. Dredging begins next summer and is scheduled for completion in 2007.
The project cleared its final administrative hurdle June 23, when the Corps and five lower Columbia River sponsoring ports signed a project cooperation agreement. With the agreement in place, the states of Washington and Oregon each added $27.7 million to pay about 38 percent of the project's cost.
Earlier this year NWEA filed a lawsuit challenging NOAA Fisheries' biological opinions of the Corps' dredging operations in the lower Columbia River and at the river's mouth. In mid-June NWEA amended its complaint to include the Corps in the lawsuit, challenging its environmental processes under the National Environmental Policy Act. It particularly challenged the Corps' Columbia River channel improvement project. That lawsuit is in progress.
NWEA also sued NOAA Fisheries in 2000 to stop the project. That lawsuit, although not finalized in court, was a factor in the federal fishery agency's decision to withdraw its BiOp for the initial project, which threw the process into 1.5 years of further scientific study. The Corps submitted a new project proposal in 2002.
Along with the Corps, project sponsors in the Columbia River channel improvement project are the Washington ports of Kalama, Longview, Vancouver and Woodland, and the Port of Portland, which also signed for the Port of St. Helens.
Northwest Environmental Advocates: www.northwestenvironmentaladvocates.org
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Portland District: www.nwp.usace.army.mil
Columbia River Channel Coalition: www.channeldeepening.com
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