NW Lawmakers, Governors Urgeby CBB Staff
The Northwest congressional delegation and Northwest governors delivered letters May 13 to congressional committee heads asking them to add $15 million to the Fiscal Year 2005 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act specifically for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Columbia River channel improvement project.
The officials from Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana asked the chairs and ranking members of both the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Energy and Water Development to include the funds needed to begin dredging the lower 103 miles of the Columbia River shipping channel.
The Senators said the $150.5 million project is needed to accommodate the deeper draft ships now being used worldwide. Oregon and Washington ports have previously said that deepening the channel from Portland to Astoria is needed to stay competitive with other West Coast ports.
"Deepening the channel will allow ships to carry larger, more cost-effective loads, resulting in transportation savings for thousands of businesses, farms, and ranches that rely upon the Columbia River for access to world markets," the Senators wrote in their joint letter. The project will deepen the shipping channel three additional feet, from 40 feet to 43 feet.
The letter from the senators was signed by Max Baucus, D-Mont.; Conrad Burns, R-Mont.; Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; Larry Craig, R-Idaho; Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; Patty Murray, D-Wash.; Gordon Smith R-Ore.; and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
Project costs have been reported by the Corps at $136 million, but that's in 2004 dollars, said Matt Rabe of the Corps. The $151 million cost is the figure adjusted for inflation and interest on the money. Of the $151million, the states of Oregon and Washington have committed to paying roughly one-third. Each state's share is $27.7 million, a total of $55.4 million. The Corps' share is $96 million to $97 million. The state payments are due once six lower Columbia River Ports -- the Ports of Kalama, Vancouver, Longview and Woodland in Washington, and Portland and St. Helens in Oregon -- sign a Project Cooperation Agreement with the Corps.
"We're looking forward in the very near future to execute the Project Cooperation Agreement with the local sponsors," Rabe said. "We hope that will be within the next month."
The dam operating agency has not asked that the $15 million be included in the President's budget. In January, the Corps submitted the project package to the Honorable John Woodley, Jr., Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. He completed his review of the package April 28 and submitted it to the Office of Management and Budget, which will also review the project before considering it for the President's budget.
The Congressional delegation and governors are asking instead that the $15 million for FY 2005 be included in Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, a process outside the President's budget process.
The project already received $3.5 million in FY 2004, $4.5 million in FY 2001 and $2 million in FY 2003. The Corps currently has about $5 million it has carried over from those years, which it plans to use for ecosystem restoration projects as well as for plans and specifications for the channel deepening project this year, Rabe said.
The project still could be stopped on environmental grounds. Nina Bell of the Northwest Environmental Advocates filed a lawsuit in late March in federal District Court in Seattle aimed at stopping the project. Bell sees the project as further degrading the Columbia River estuary and challenged NOAA Fisheries biological opinions for both the channel deepening project (released in 2002) and for Corps operation and maintenance dredging operations in the lower river (released in 1999), the mouth of the Columbia River and the lower Willamette River. The Corps' response to Bell's initial filing is due at the court May 28.
The governors in a similar joint letter to the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Energy and Water Development said there is "widespread business, labor, agricultural, political, and public support for the project." They said the project is needed to sustain the 40,000 jobs that depend on Columbia River seaport activity.
The letter from the governors was signed by Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne, Judy Martz of Montana, Ted Kulongoski of Oregon and Gary Locke of Washington. U.S. Representatives also signed a joint letter to the committee. Congressmen who signed were Brian Baird, D-Wash.; Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.; Peter DeFazio, D-Ore; Jennifer Dunn, R-Wash.; Doc Hastings, R-Wash.; Darlene Hooley, D-Ore.; George Nethercutt, R-Wash.; C.L. "Butch" Otter, R-Idaho; Denny Rehberg, R-Mont.; Greg Walden, R-Ore.; and David Wu, D-Ore.
Sen. Patty Murray: murray.senate.gov
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: www.nwp.usace.army.mil
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