Longview will Benefit from
by Editorial Board
The more than two-decades-long Columbia River channel-deepening project is nearing completion. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expects to finish dredging the deeper shipping channel from Astoria to Portland before the end of the year. The work will be completed at least a year ahead of schedule, thanks to an infusion of almost $30 million in federal stimulus money last spring.
This is very good news. Longview and other port communities along the lower Columbia River have a huge economic stake in this infrastructure project. The deeper channel will allow larger, more efficient cargo vessels to navigate the lower Columbia. That means more money for ports and more jobs throughout the area for decades to come.
Credit Sen. Patty Murray, Rep. Brian Baird and other members of the Washington congressional delegation for securing the stimulus funding needed to dredge that final stretch of the river. Those stimulus dollars amounted to a rare windfall for proponents of the project. Little else has come easy in this long effort to deepen the lower Columbia shipping channel from 40 to 43 feet. Representatives of this and other port communities have had to battle opponents of the project in court and scratch for funding every step of the way.
Just a little more than six years ago - after the project had cleared most legal hurdles and the actual dredging was about to begin - it seemed that federal government might pull the plug on channel deepening. The Bush administration adopted a "no new starts" policy for Corps projects in late 2003. Fortunately, the administration soon recognized that well over a decade of planning and the millions already invested amounted to a solid start, and allowed the corps to begin dredging in fiscal 2005.
Former President Bush became an enthusiastic supporter of the project, turning the federal government into a reliable partner. That was critical to avoiding a stop-and-go work schedule that could have pushed the completion date forward by years.
Time is money insofar as port communities are concerned. Quite literally. That extra three feet of depth in the shipping channel is essential for the new generation of deep-draft vessels. For some time now, larger ships were having to take on lighter loads of grain from the Port of Kalama in order to navigate the 40-foot depth in portions of the river. Kalama port officials expect to increase business by more than $130 million per year with the deeper shipping channel.
The Port of Longview also will realize a significant boost in business from grain shipments, thanks to the new grain terminal and shipping berth now under construction. Longview could not have contracted for the construction of a grain terminal without the promise of a deeper shipping channel.
We've long contended that channel deepening was close to an economic necessity for this area. More than 40,000 jobs in the region depend on maritime trade, and the future of that trade depends on maintaining a shipping channel deep enough to accommodate the newest and most efficient cargo vessels.
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