Federal Scientists say Deepening Columbia River for Bigger Ships Won't Hurt Salmon
Environmental News Network - May 29, 2002
PORTLAND, Ore. -- After taking a second look at deepening the Columbia River channel for bigger ships, federal scientists said this week the project will not harm salmon and other threatened and endangered species.
The findings mark a major milestone for the $196 million project to deepen about 100 miles of shipping channel by three feet between Astoria, Ore., and Vancouver, Wash.
River ports have pressed for the channel deepening because shipping companies are moving to bigger vessels, but environmentalists and Indian tribes are mulling whether to go to court to protect salmon runs.
The National Marine Fisheries Service looked at the effects on 12 runs of Pacific salmon and Stellar sea lions. The Fish and Wildlife Service looked at Columbia whitetail deer, bald eagles, cutthroat trout, and bulltrout. The agencies found none of the species would be jeopardized.
Before it can begin dredging, the Army Corps of Engineers needs approvals from Washington and Oregon. The corps is also redoing its 1999 economic analysis of the project and must get Congress to appropriate the money.
After being sued by environmentalists over its 1999 approval of the project, the National Marine Fisheries Service gathered new information and developed a new computer model, said Michael Teehan, chief of the service's Oregon habitat branch. The findings were reviewed by a panel of experts.
Opponents say deepening the channel could allow saltwater to move farther up the river, killing plants and animals, and bigger ships will cast bigger wakes, perhaps tossing small fish onto land. They also say fish could be harmed by more silt in the water from dredging and shipping.
The NMFS said it found that saltwater would not reach important fish habitats and that water currents would not change in a harmful way. It also rebutted the other concerns.
Northwest Environmental Advocates sued over the 1999 findings. The group was considering a suit over the latest findings, said executive director Nina Bell. "This process and this product are the result of a political negotiation, not really a science-based decision-making process," she said.
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