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If the four Lower Snake River (LSR) dams are breached...

  • Q. What are the impacts to transportation?

  • A. Ensuring sufficient rail capacity, sidings and loading facilities will be of primary importance. Averaged annually, current barge shipments on the LSR are once a day. (See Marine Traffic for current ship locations).
    250 trains / year x (10,000 tons / 100-car train) = 2.5 million tons / year

    Washington State Rail Grant and Loan Programs

    The state of Washington administers both a grant program and a loan program designed to support freight rail capital needs. The Connecting Washington transportation package passed by the legislature and signed into law in July 2015 has increased the amount of available funding in the grant program. For the 2019-2021 biennium, a total of $7.6 million is available for Freight Rail Assistance Program Grants and $7 million is available for Freight Rail Investment Bank loans.

    The EFFECTS Transportation -- FR/EIS Summary (February 2002)

    The Federally maintained, 465-mile-long Columbia-Snake Inland Waterway is formed by the eight dams and lock facilities on the lower Columbia and Snake Rivers. Each of the eight dams maintains a system of locks with sufficient depth to accommodate commercial barges. This system provides inland waterborne navigation from Lewiston, Idaho, to the Pacific Ocean, carrying commodity shipments from inland areas of the Pacific Northwest as far away as North Dakota. Tugs, barges, log rafts, and recreational boats use the locks throughout the year.

    Graphic: Grain tonnage through locks operated by Army Corps of Engineers, Walla Walla District (1990-2016). Downriver commodity shipments are about nine times the volume of the upriver movements. This is primarily because of the large movements of grain bound for Columbia River export terminals. Columbia-Snake Inland Waterway transport accounts for approximately 40 percent of grain arriving at downriver export terminals.

    Grain products, mostly wheat and barley, make up 78 percent of the shipments passing through the Ice Harbor navigation lock. Wood chips and logs are about 16 percent of the river transport loads and petroleum products account for about 3 percent. The yearly average of commodities traveling through the Ice Harbor navigation lock from 1987 through 1996 averaged about 3.8 million tons per year.

    Any major changes to this mode of transportation would affect other regional transportation systems and the economics of shipping goods.
    . . .
    Alternative 4--Dam Breaching
    This alternative would have a significant impact on commercial shipments because barge transportation would no longer be available through the lower Snake River. To move these commodities, including an estimated 126.6 million bushels of grain annually, additional truck or rail transportation would be needed. Commodities would be rerouted by truck to river elevators on the Columbia River or shipped by rail directly to export terminals. Transportation costs would increase because barge transport is less costly and, in some cases, more direct than other transportation modes. Major improvements in rail and highway capacity would be needed to accommodate the shift. The projected increase in cost per bushel of grain is estimated to range from 6 cents in Oregon to 21 cents in Montana. The costs for transporting other commodities are anticipated to increase by about 5 percent.

    The average annual cost associated with transportation would be approximately $38 million. This cost has been revised from the average annual cost of $24 million reported in the Draft FR/EIS. During review of the Draft FR/EIS independent reviewers and the public raised questions about the assumption that grain-handling capacity could be expanded and other infrastructure improvements could be made without upward pressure on average costs. In response to these concerns, marginal costs and revenue of infrastructure improvements were compared and costs in excess of marginal revenue (fees and other revenue from handling and transporting grain that would be diverted from the lower Snake River) were added to the National Economic Development (NED) costs of dam breaching.

    Approximately 29 percent of the grain would likely be diverted to rail transport. This increase in volume would require improvements to railroad infrastructure in terms of mainline railroad upgrades, short-line railroad upgrades, additional rail cars, and increased export terminal rail car shortage. These improvements are estimated to cost from $50 million to $89 million. The rest of the grain would likely be moved by trucks. Breaching the dams would result in a decrease of about 1.9 million truck miles in Idaho (because grain would be shifted to rail transport), but there would be an increase of approximately 3.9 million truck miles in Washington (because trucks would carry grain the additional miles to reach the Columbia River ports). If the dams are breached, required highway improvements are estimated to range from $84 million to $101 million. River and country grain elevator improvements would also be required. The cost of these elevator improvements is estimated to range from about $60 million to over $352.3 million. The additional traffic, due to increased transportation of goods, could increase highway and rail safety concerns.

    Transportation Analysis -- DREW Technical Report - Transportation (October 1999) Infrastructure Requirements and Costs
    Closure of the Snake River portion of the Columbia Snake River System (CSRS) by breaching the four dams on the Snake River would shift grain and non-grain commodities to alternatives modes and/or ports on the CSRS below the Snake River. The analysis determined, for example, that about 1.1 million tons of grain would shift to rail. The remainder would continue to be shipped on the CSRS but would enter the river in the Tri Cities area. The result would be a significant increase in truck traffic, especially in southeastern Washington. The study included an assessment of impacts to the rail and highway systems, river elevator capacity, country elevators, the availability of rail cars, rail car storage at terminal elevators and congestion on both highways and the rail system. The findings were that some improvements would be needed, as follows:

    • Upgrade mainline railroads, primarily expansion of interchanges with the short-line railroads and construction of additional rail car storage in the downriver export terminal area.

    • Upgrade short-line railroads.

    • Upgrade and improve traffic controls on impacted highways in southeast Washington.

    • Expand river elevator capacity in the Tri Cities area.

    • Improve handling/rail car loading facilities at some country elevators.

    • Acquire rail cars to insure a reliable supply to the region.

    . . . Continued Use of Existing Snake River Elevators With Drawdown.
    With drawdown and closure of the Snake River to barge traffic, 12 river elevators could become abandoned. In 1998 these facilities handled a combined total of over 100 million bushels of grain (1 ton is approximately 36.75 bushels of wheat). With drawdown, the alternate river port becomes the Tri Cities area. Construction of replacement facilities in the Tri Cities could cost over $300 million. A less costly alternative may be to continue using some of the existing facilities as railroad loading facilities. In particular, the location of the facilities at Central Ferry might make them an attractive railhead alternative. Additional study would be needed to determine if conversion of these facilities to a railhead would lower overall costs.

    . . .
    The case of the railroads and their role with drawdown was relatively easy to model. Because of federal regulations that require the railroads regularly report costs, estimates of costs used in the model were easier to develop and appear to be more accurate than either the truck or barge costs. The railroad system is fairly well developed in the region and there are an adequate number of elevators with unit-train loading capacity (26 cars or more) to accommodate rail shipment of the grain that might be diverted from the river with drawdown. However, there is significant uncertainty about whether the railroads would provide the same quality of service that is provided by the existing system. A basic cause of this uncertainty is that the railroads do not currently ship a significant amount of grain from the region. Also, there is uncertainty about what if any improvements would be needed by the rail system. Estimates are provided in the report but representatives of the railroads state that the volume of shipments predicted with drawdown (about 1.1 million tons) could be shipped by rail now without any improvements or acquisition of new rail cars. Thus, the range of costs for rail system improvements may actually be from zero up to the levels shown in the report. Further analysis would be required to obtain a more accurate estimate of costs.

    Response to Comments -- Appendix U - FR/EIS (February 2002)

    Graphic: Comparison of truck, rail and barge cargo capacities. Rail capacity. The issue of mainline rail system capacity was analyzed for the FR/EIS in a study conducted for the Corps by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and Marshall University (1998). The study consisted of a systems analysis of capacity constraints and needed system improvements with a significantly higher volume of diversion of grain to the rail system with dam removal than is actually expected. This study found that the additional volume of traffic (higher than is actually expected) would have a relatively insignificant impact on system capacity but identified a number of system improvements that may be needed. The issue was also discussed with representatives of the BNSF and Union Pacific (UP) railroads. The representative of the BNSF asserted that the additional volume of traffic with dam removal could be handled by the rail system without any impact on capacity. (The UP did not respond to our request for comments on potential rail system impacts.) The report prepared by the TVA and Marshall University was not published as part of the FR/EIS but is included in that Transportation Technical Report as a Technical Exhibit and is available for review on Walla Walla District's website. A summary of the report is included in the Transportation Technical Report that was prepared by the Transportation Workgroup (DREW Transportation Workgroup, 1999a). For the Final FR/EIS, the summary of the transportation analysis that is included in Appendix I of the FR/EIS will be revised to include information on the types of rail system improvements that could be needed with dam removal.

    Larger rail cars Although analysis of the transition of the railroads to larger cars on mainline railroads may be appropriate for future consideration, the issue is not considered relevant to grain movement by the railroads with dam removal. The reason is that while the mainlines may be suitable for use of the larger cars, the secondary lines that feed the mainline certainly do not have the capability to use them. Accordingly, it would seem apparent that grain originating from secondary railroads would continue to be transported from the Snake River grain shed using cars that are currently in use. The analysis that was done for the FR/EIS was based on the use of cars with a capacity of 95 tons. (bluefish notes: Annual shipment of 2.5 million tons of wheat would take 263 approximately 100-car trains, which averages to 5 trains per week.)

  • Q. How much would loss of transportation cost?

    Transportation Analysis -- DREW Technical Report - Transportation (October 1999)

    Table 1-1 Increase in Grain Shipments and Shipping Costs
    With Drawdown for 2007 Projected Volume, by State
    State Volume
    (million bushels)
    (million dollars)
    (million dollars)
    (million dollars)
    (million dollars)
    Idaho 32.3 $5.0 m $0.9 m $0.4 m $6.3 m
    Montana 6.5 $1.3 m 0 0 $1.3 m
    N. Dakota 2.5 $0.3 m 0 0 0.3 m
    Oregon 1.0 $.06 m 0 0 $.06 m
    Washington 84.4 $11.5 m $1.5 m 0.7 m $13.9 m
    Totals 126.6 $18.2 m $2.5 m $1.2 m $33.6 m
    Closure of the Snake River would increase transportation costs for all commodities now shipped on the river and would shift some of it, especially grain, to the railroads for transport to lower Columbia River destinations. The estimated increase in transportation, storage and handling costs amounts to about $22 million annually or an average of 17.3 cents per bushel (Table 1-1). To accommodate the modal shift, infrastructure improvements costing from an estimated low of $210 million to a high of $535 million would need to be made. The improvements would be needed to improve and expand existing infrastructure or replace infrastructure that would be abandoned with closure of the Snake River to commercial navigation. Since these improvements are needed to accommodate a shift in grain among existing modes, in theory, the unit cost of the improvements are accounted for in the annual cost increase mentioned earlier. Investments in infrastructure that would be abandoned with drawdown are sunk costs and were not estimated or included in the analysis.

    Loss of access to the Snake River by the cruise-ship industry could have a significant impact on the marketability of extended cruises on the Columbia River. Industry representatives indicate that operations could become infeasible and vessels would be relocated to other rivers. The result would be the loss of approximately $2.6 million annually to the Snake River area economy and as much as $5 million annually to the region as a whole. This, however, may not be the case and the industry may be able to continue operations even with dam removal. If so, impacts would be limited to the Lewiston/Clarkston area ($2.6 million annually) and those expenditures would be made in the lower Columbia River region. If this were to occur there would be no region-wide impact from removal of the dams.

    Data are presented in Table 1-1 that summarize the volume of grain diverted and increased direct costs resulting from closure of the Lower Snake River to commercial navigation. Costs are shown by State in terms of totals and per-unit (per bushel and per ton) for transportation, storage and handling. The volume of grain shipments and costs shown are those projected for 2007. The analysis included projected growth through 2017, after which shipments were assumed to remain constant at that level for the remainder of the period of analysis (2007 - 2016). Costs for other years are not shown because the projected growth did not have a significant effect on costs at either the per-bushel or per ton level.
    . . .
    In reviewing the results of the study, it is important that readers keep in mind that there will be significant differences between estimated cost increases for specific counties and regions and the averages shown in Table 1-1 for the region and the States. The actual increase would be much higher, for example, for producers who are located near the CSRS (and relatively far away from the Tri Cities) and currently ship direct from the farm to the river. In general, the further removed a producer is from the CSRS and the Tri Cities alternate port with drawdown, the lower the increase in costs will be. Montana and North Dakota are unique cases because the economies of truck shipments of grain from those states to the CSRS are based on the fact that the primary haul for these shippers is building products from the Northwest. Without the availability of the backhaul rate for grain, truck shipment of grain would cease.

    Economic and Environmental Impacts of the Columbia-Snake River Extended Lock Outage -- Freight Policity Transportation Institute (August 2011)

    Table: Typical Wheat Shipping Rates by Survey Respondents The Columbia-Snake River System in the Pacific Northwest recently underwent a massive and sustained lock outage, which eliminated barge transportation on much of the upper Columbia River and all of the Snake River. A shutdown of this length is unprecedented in the United States. The impact of this loss of a major mode of transportation and the impact on the demands of other modes of transportation were significant.

    The goal of the outage was to make necessary major maintenance repairs for continued operation in the future. Such extended lock closures are not normal but this river system, as many facilities throughout the nation, required massive investments to maintain the integrity of the system and to continue to generate the acknowledged long term benefits of the navigation system.

    The economic value of this transportation link is apparent from the commerce that flows up and down the system. This river system is the #1 U.S. wheat export gateway, #1 U.S. barley export gateway, #1 West Coast paper and forest products gateway, #1 in West Coast mineral bulk exports and #1 in West Coast auto imports. This inland system supports 10 million tons of cargo and is connected to the deep draft channel and ocean shipping which supports over 45 million tons of cargo.

    The closure of these locks, which occurred from December 10, 2010 to March 24, 2011, had impacts on shippers, river carriers, roads, alternative modes, ports, communities, economic development decisions, energy and the environment as these entities reacted to the temporary loss of this transportation alternative.
    . . .
    In contrast to barge companies, which lost business for the majority of the lock outage, rail lines experienced an increase in cargo loads during the lock outage. Rail lines in the Pacific Northwest dealt with greater than normal volumes, additional products that would have moved by barge, increased crew numbers, additional days of operation and a few extra trains per week. Part of this experience included rail lines reaching out to industries that needed transportation during the outage and partnering with local ports to aid in the movement of products that would normally travel by barge.
    . . .
    On average, truck-barge is at least 10 cents per bushel less than rail and truck. Direct truck to final market is the most expensive form of transportation in the Pacific Northwest at 89 cents per bushel and is seldom used (Table 2.3). Northern Washington and Southern Idaho are the only regions in which barge is more costly than both rail and truck.
    . . .
    Energy consumed per ton decreased 4.8 percent due to the heavy use of rail, which is more energy efficient than barge or truck, and the increased use of barge prior to and after the lock outage.

    Along with energy consumption, emissions production also increased due to the lock outage. The total change in emissions due to the loss of barge during the lock outage caused a 9 percent increase in overall emissions from the transportation commodities. Percentages of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides and particulate matter all increased; sulfur oxides were the only emissions component to decrease. Again, the general increase in emissions is a result of the increase in tonnage shipped and alternative modes used during the lock outage year in comparison to a typical year. Rail produces more emissions, including all components, when compared to barge. Truck produces more hydrocarbons and particulate matter when compared to barge. Therefore, the general increase in emissions during a transportation disruption like the extended lock outage is logical and expected.
    . . .
    According to industry interviews, wheat shipments that normally moved by barge transportation would move by truck and rail during the lock outage. There are several 110 railcar loading facilities in the Pacific Northwest, including those located in eastern Washington and southern Idaho. These shippers plan to take on high volumes of wheat during the extended lock outage. Ritzville Warehouse Company, a grain elevator in Washington, expected three times the normal winter business during the lock closure. These railcar loading facilities have access to hundreds of miles of track and country elevators, which makes this mode of transportation efficient and affordable, more so than direct trucking, for traditional barge customers.
    . . .
    Rail Lines
    In contrast to barge companies, which lost business for the majority of the lock outage, rail lines experienced an increase in cargo loads during the lock outage. Rail lines in the Pacific Northwest dealt with greater than normal volumes, additional products that would have moved by barge, increased crew numbers, additional days of operation and a few extra trains per week. Part of this experience included rail lines reaching out to industries that needed transportation during the outage and partnering with local ports to aid in the movement of products that would normally travel by barge.

    Table: Energy Intensity of Truck, Rail and Barge in Btu per Ton-Mile

  • Q. What are the Greenhouse Gas impacts of losing barge transportation?

    Breaching is reversible, extinction and ecosystem collapse is not.

    The concept of sustainability has been increasingly brought into focus as we have become convinced that all systems on earth are interrelated and that many of today's problems were the solutions of yesterday. Sustainability is, however, a very old concept. Most American Indian cultures understood the importance of sustainability and sustainable development, living in harmony with all things.

    Many people are familiar with the Seventh Generation philosophy commonly credited to the Iroquois Confederacy but practiced by many Native nations. The Seventh Generation philosophy mandated that tribal decision makers consider the effects of their actions and decisions for descendents seven generations into the future. There was a clear understanding that everything we do has consequences for something and someone else, reminding us that we are all ultimately connected to creation.

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