Columbia Dredging Put on Hold

Mon September 22, 2003 - National Edition

(AP) The plan to deepen the Columbia River’s shipping channel has been put on hold as a part of the Bush administration’s policy of not starting new projects so it can reduce the backlog of publicworks.

The decision could delay the project for years, The Oregonian reported last week.

It means Bush will not make room for the project in his budget proposals, forcing members of Congress from the region to compete year after year for scarce construction dollars.

”For the project to move quickly, it needs the president’s support,’ said Sen. Patty Murray, D-WA., a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. ”It makes it a whole lot harder to get the funding when the president asks for nothing in his budget.’

The $148.4 million project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would deepen the river by 3 to 43 ft. (.9 to 13 m), allowing for the larger cargo ships Columbia River ports say will boost their competitiveness.

Critics say dredging would destroy habitat for endangered salmon in the sensitive river estuary and further erode Oregon and Washington beaches and could run afoul of state and federal water quality standards.

The project has received some federal money but is considered ”new’ because no dredging contracts have been awarded, a White House official said.

Matt Rabe, a spokesman at the corps’ regional headquarters in Portland, confirmed that the project had been designated a new start.

Bill Wyatt, executive director of the Port of Portland, said that even if the project is blocked from the president’s budget, it enjoys strong support from the region’s congressional delegation.

Wyatt said he is confident more money will be available once the project receives its ”record of decision,’ a formal endorsement by national corps officials, expected within weeks.

”I am quite confident that we will complete the project. Mainly getting started is the most important part of this,’ he said.

Still, the record is grim for corps construction projects left out of the annual White House budget proposal.

It allocates funds to 262 corps construction projects for a potential total of $1.8 billion. But 85 of those projects, including the Columbia, were added by senators and received only $194.8 million of the total.

What’s more, projects added by senators typically receive smaller allocations each year than those in the president’s budget.