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Corps Delays Dredging on Lower Snake River

by Matthew Weaver
Capital Press, September 9, 2013

(Brent Wojahn) Back in March, a dredge near Longview, Wash., finished up some of the final work on the 20-year Columbia River dredging project. Officials from Oregon and Washington celebrated the completion of the project Thursday in Vancouver, Wash. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is postponing the environmental impact assessment of its sediment management plan on the lower Snake River.

The Walla Walla, Wash., district of the corps is also delaying proposed dredging of the lower Snake River in Lewiston, Idaho; Clarkston, Wash., and near Ice Harbor Lock and Dam in Burbank, Wash., originally intended for this winter.

The corps said the remaining work to be done doesn't allow it time to complete the environmental impact statement (EIS) on the sediment management plan and consider signing a Record of Decision in time for possible action during the winter's work window, Dec. 15 through Feb. 28.

Proposed dredging originally potentially slated for this winter is now delayed at least a year.

Kristin Meira, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, supports maintenance dredging of the channel as soon as possible, including securing all appropriate environmental clearances.

Meira said "minimal maintenance" dredging on the lower Snake River is necessary to ensure safe, efficient navigation.

"If they are unable to do so, it means the system is less efficient," she said "Cargo has to be left on the docks. It drives up transportation costs for our regional wheat farmers and others."

It's most efficient to load barges to their full depths and send them downriver to fill ocean-going vessels, Meira said.

Meira said continued delays will eventually be felt.

According to the Corps, the Port of Lewiston and the Port of Clarkston are now required to apply for individual permits from the Corps and state agencies in Idaho and Washington for proposed dredging of their own port berthing and dock areas.

Sediment has accumulated in portions of the dock or berthing areas in Lewiston and Clarkston, but Henrickson said traffic is able to navigate around it. The corps has proposed to maintain the federal navigation channels and dredge the docking areas, but no final decision has been made, Henrickson said.

The Snake River was last dredged in that area in the winter of 2005-2006.

"Dredging is the only effective, short-term tool available to maintain the federal navigation channel to the congressionally-authorized dimensions," Henrickson said. "Dredging is the only tool that will meet the immediate-need action of removing the sediment in the river, but we are looking at long-term solutions."

Other tools available include in-water structures like dikes that may redirect sediment in the river.

The corps continues to work on its EIS.

Henrickson said the corps is considering several hundred public comments on its proposed plan and drafting a response, to be included in the final EIS.

The final EIS will include another 30-day public comment period. The northwestern division commander of the corps would decide whether or not to sign the record of decision and move forward with sediment management, starting with dredging, Henrickson said.

It's not certain when the final EIS will be finished and put out for another public comment period.

"It appears to be several months down the road," Henrickson said. "We're still determining exactly what the ports will need to do to get their individual permits."

The waterways association recently put out a press release showing support for the river's navigation system. Meira said that was to combat inaccurate information by groups who don't understand or seek to breach the Snake River dams.

"Even though it is virtually the same dredging that is performed every day all around the country in much larger quantities than are being proposed for the Snake, this particular dredging always attracts criticism," Meira said.

Loss of the river system would drive up transportation costs and cause certain sectors to not ship product at all, she said.

"They would not be able to compete in the international marketplace if their domestic transportation costs increased," she said. "This system makes it possible for U.S. goods to be competitive."

Matthew Weaver
Corps Delays Dredging on Lower Snake River
Capital Press, September 9, 2013

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