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Enviros Fight Dredging Plan

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, November 8, 2002

Groups say proposal will harm Snake River salmon and steelhead

Environmental groups have moved to halt planned dredging of the lower Snake River that they contend will harm juvenile and adult salmon and steelhead.

The Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition filed a preliminary injunction in federal district court at Seattle Thursday aimed at stopping the channel deepening work scheduled to begin in December.

If granted, the injunction would put on hold dredging of ports, the shipping channel and recreation areas until a lawsuit filed by the coalition on Monday is decided. That suit seeks to have the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' dredging plan declared arbitrary and capricious and to have the planning repeated to include non-dredging alternatives.

"Our main concern here is to make sure the corps gets it right and to really, seriously look at options that don't include dredging," said Bert Bowler of Idaho Rivers United, based in Boise.

The corps plans to spend $3 million removing 319,000 cubic yards of silt and sediment from the river.

The salmon advocate groups back removal of the four lower Snake River dams to help recovery of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead and believe the corps' plan to dredge and dump spoils back into the river will harm the fish.

They say dredging downstream of the dams could disturb fall chinook redds, and dumping dredge spoils in deeper areas of the reservoirs may expose fish to toxic materials in the sediments.

The corps plans to use the dredge spoils to create habitat for young fish near Knoxway Canyon, about 23 miles west of Lewiston. The spoils would be removed from the river bottom, loaded on barges and shipped to the dumping area. Once there the sand and silt would be used to create shallow water resting and feeding habitat for young fish on their way to the ocean.

The work would be done between Dec. 15 and March 1 when there are fewer salmon and steelhead in the reservoirs. But Bob Heinith, a fisheries biologist for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission at Portland, Ore., said significant numbers of steelhead spend the winter in the reservoirs, as do many juvenile fall chinook. In March, juvenile steelhead begin to enter the reservoir, and adult steelhead that have already spawned, known as kelts, attempt to return to the ocean.

"We are concerned about the numbers of fish that would potentially be in the pools during this proposed working period," he said.

The corps declined to respond to the lawsuit and request for an injunction Thursday. However, in its environmental impact statement on its dredging plans it did address concerns raised by the salmon groups. In that document the corps said the National Marine Fisheries Service that is responsible for protecting the listed fish, said the dredging plan would not jeopardize the continued existence of the runs.

While some fall chinook could be harmed, the corps said habitat created by the dredge spoils would bring long-term benefits to juvenile fall chinook. The dumping of the spoils in the river and turbidity caused by the dumping is not expected to harm fish, according to the corps.

Dredging is intended to maintain the shipping channel between McNary Dam on the Columbia River at Lewiston that allows barge traffic to pass up and down the river.

The work was scheduled to take place last winter but was delayed when environmental groups and Indian tribes raised concerns about the work and prompted the corps to conduct the environmental impact study now under attack.

Barges carrying wheat from the Port of Lewiston to Portland are being light loaded because of sediment accumulation at the port.

Last week Port of Lewiston manager David Doeringsfeld said another winter without dredging would make port operations more difficult.

"It will definitely cause some heartburn," he said.

The lawsuit filed Monday says the corps did not consider a wide range of alternatives and used suspect economic analysis to justify dredging.

Eric Barker
Enviros Fight Dredging Plan
Lewiston Tribune, November 8, 2002

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