Cargo Worth $16 Billion
by East Oregonian
The idea of deepening the Columbia River channel as far inland as Portland is an issue of keen interest to Eastern Oregon.
Support for the idea of lowering the depth of the channel from 40 feet down to 43 feet is widespread.
Both the 600-foot wide channel and the fragile jetty system that help create a safe entrance and exit for commercial and recreation vessels at the mouth of the Columbia are a vital resource to this state.
Severe storms during the past few years have weakened the jetties. Short-term repairs to both the North Jetty and the South Jetty have been under way. The Army Corps of Engineers is studying long-term options.
If either of the jetties is breached in the meantime, the navigation channel would quickly fill with sand, potentially shutting down commercial and recreational navigation. Emergency repairs would be difficult.
Construction is now under way at a cost of $150.5 million to deepen the channel. The project is about half complete. Both Oregon and Washington have already appropriated their portion of the necessary funding, which totals $55.4 million, and $64 million in federal funds have been made available. The balance of the funding remains in question.
The project has been surrounded by misunderstandings based upon a belief that the entire river is being impacted by the deepening efforts. Actually, only the 600-foot wide channel is affected. Only 54 percent of the channel itself, and just 3.5 percent of the 103-mile section of the river, requires deepening.
Without deepening, the large ships that now ply the river must reduce their bulk cargo by 6,000 tons.
With Portland functioning as the second busiest port on the West Coast of the United States, it is vital that it remains competitive. At the present time, cargo worth $16 billion is transported each year on the Columbia.
Kim Puzey, manager of the Port of Umatilla, has said it is not likely that the rail system will be expanded anytime soon and there are limits - both economical and physical - why the highway system can only handle so many more trucks. That leaves the river. Providing the necessary funding and bringing this project to a successful conclusion makes sense and will have a positive impact on transportation costs for our businesses and farmers.
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