Report Criticizes Columbia Deepening,
by Matthew Daly
Projects to deepen the Columbia River and barge salmon around four Snake River dams were singled out for criticism Thursday in a national report by an environmental group and budget watchdog.
The National Wildlife Federation and Taxpayers for Common Sense say the two Pacific Northwest projects are among 29 across the nation where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers risks damaging the environment for little tangible economic benefit.
The Lower Snake River Navigation project in Washington, Idaho and Oregon is listed as the third most-wasteful in the country, while the Columbia River deepening in Oregon and Washington is ranked 10th.
Instead of spending tens of millions of dollars every year to move endangered salmon by truck or barge, the Army Corps should remove the Snake River dams as "the most economical and effective solution to stop the hemorrhage of taxpayer money and save the salmon," the report said.
Similarly, the report said the corps should abandon plans to deepen the Columbia River channel by 3 feet to allow larger cargo ships to reach ports as far as inland as Portland, Ore. The $136 million dredging project "will pose a new threat to salmon and steelhead survival while overestimating its economic benefits to taxpayers," the report said.
Overall, the 29 projects highlighted in the report would cost $12 billion and threaten more than 640,000 acres of wetlands and shoreline areas; about 6,500 miles of rivers and coastlines; eight national parks, seashores and wildlife refuges; and the Great Lakes, the report said.
Dutch Meier, a spokesman for the Army Corps' Walla Walla, Wash., district, which oversees the Snake River project, said the report presented a familiar litany of concerns.
Conservationists for years have advocated removing the Eastern Washington dams as a way to help migrating salmon reach the ocean and eventually return to their spawning grounds.
But the dams open the river for barges to travel between Lewiston, Idaho, and Pacific Ocean ports. Proponents have said that increasing the number of trucks and trains to carry grain and other commodities would create more pollution.
The issue has become enmeshed in presidential politics. Last year, President Bush visited one of the dams and said his administration would work to improve salmon runs while retaining all four dams.
"One of the corps' first environmental principles is that we strive to achieve environmental sustainability," Meier said, adding that officials are committed to working with other federal agencies, state and local governments, non-governmental organizations and individual citizens.
Like others highlighted in the report, the Snake River project has "stood the test of rigorous public review," Meier said.
Matt Rabe, a spokesman for the corps' Portland office, said the 15-year-old Columbia deepening project also has undergone extensive public scrutiny.
"We respect their right to their opinion," he said of the report's authors. "What I don't see in this write-up is the rest of the story," including the project's benefits and its extensive support in Congress and among a host of interested groups.
The corps has predicted that the 103-mile project, which would deepen the 40-foot-deep shipping channel from Portland to the Pacific, would return $1.71 for every $1 spent.
The project has bipartisan support from lawmakers across the Northwest, including Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., who has criticized the corps for resisting outside review of other projects. Blumenauer, who backs a bill requiring the corps to submit major proposals to independent review, has said the Columbia project, as planned, would enhance the environment.
National Wildlife Federation: www.nwf.org
Taxpayers for Common Sense: www.taxpayers.net
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: www.usace.army.mil
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