Dredging the Columbia River was
by Editorial Board
The Columbia River channel-deepening project has been completed, finally. The last bit of river bottom was dredged Wednesday, near Longview. The shipping channel now has been deepened to at least 43 feet from Astoria to Portland.
It's taken a very long time to dredge that extra three feet from this 103-mile stretch of the lower Columbia River -- much longer than it took to put men on the moon. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began feasibility studies on the project more than 20 years ago. It's been more than 16 years since
Southwest Washington and Oregon port officials gathered in Vancouver to launch their drive to dredge the deeper shipping channel.
Funding issues and legal challenges delayed the start of dredging until 2005. On at least a couple of occasions, it seemed that the dredging might never begin. As late as 2003, the project was close to being abandoned by the federal government. The Bush administration had adopted a "no new starts" policy for Corps projects. Fortunately, the administration came to recognize that well over a decade of planning the many millions of dollars already invested disqualified this project as a "new start."
Former President Bush soon became an enthusiastic supporter of channel-deepening and, with the help Washington Sen. Patty Murray and other members of Pacific Northwest congressional delegations, the federal government became a reliable partner. This turn was critical to preventing a stop-and-go work schedule that could have pushed the completion date back years.
Time, quite literally, is money insofar as port communities along the lower Columbia River are concerned. As Pat Bryant of Kalama Export at the Port of Kalama told Daily News business reporter Erik Olson last month, "We are ready to use (the deeper shipping channel) today." Indeed, Olson reported that the deeper channel allows grain ships to leave the Port of Kalama with about 8 percent to 10 percent more cargo, adding almost 1 million tons of grain shipped annually.
This will mean more port revenue and waterfront jobs. A deeper shipping channel allowing larger, deeper-draft vessels to navigate the lower Columbia River factored into Kalama Export's to spend roughly $36 million upgrading its port facilities. And investors almost certainly would not have gone forward with plans to build a $200 million grain elevator at the Port of Longview absent the deeper shipping channel.
The economic stake all ports in the region have in this deeper channel was made clear in a 2005 marine cargo forecast by the Washington Public Ports Association. It predicted lower Columbia River grain exports would nearly double, from 8.5 million tons to 15.1 million tons, with the deeper shipping channel. We believe it's fair to say that completing this project was close to an economic necessity for this and other port communities along the lower Columbia River. More than 40,000 jobs in the region depend on maritime trade, and the future of that trade depends on dredging and maintaining a shipping channel deep enough to accommodate the next generation of cargo vessels.
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