Oregon, Washington Officials Praise
by James Mayer
VANCOUVER, Wash. -- Port officials, business and union leaders, and politicians for Oregon and Washington patted each other on the back Thursday for completing the $178 million deepening of the Columbia River channel, a project 20 years in the making.
"This channel is part of a transportation system that is critically important to the future of both our states," said Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski.
The project, carried out by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, deepened the shipping channel from 40 to 43 feet from Astoria to Portland.
A coalition of ports and businesses that use the river have pushed hard for the deepening to allow larger ship. Environmentalists fought the project as potentially harmful to salmon and allowing contamination of estuaries.
Lawsuits were eventually settled, and monitoring, which will continue for three years, so far has not revealed significant environmental damage.
No environmental groups were represented on the podium Thursday.
The channel-deepening project will keep 700,000 trucks a year off Interstate 5, said Paula Hammond, Washington secretary of transportation.
Most speakers stressed the project's capacity to enhance the regional economy.
Patrick Bryan, vice president of Kalama Export Co., which operates a grain export terminal serving 160 to 170 ships a year, said the deeper channel allows him to ship eight to 10 percent more grain per vessel.
"This is huge for us," Bryan said. "Thanks for getting this done. We're ready to use it today."
Bill Wyatt, executive director of the Port of Portland, said from $500,000 to $ 1 million in port projects are the direct result of the channel deepening project.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., pointed to the next project advocates say is needed to improve shipping on the river, replacement of the aging jetties at the Astoria bar, a project estimated to cost as much as the deepening effort.
"If we don't take action, it won't be possible to take full advantage of the channel deepening," Cantwell said.
"If those jetties fail, commerce will stop at the Columbia River bar," added Rep. David Wu, D-Oregon.
Critics of the project argue that as ships continue to get bigger, the channel will once again be too shallow. Wu said Congress needs to get started on dredging the next three feet.
With so many politicians on hand, the mid-term election in less than two weeks was not far below the surface.
Several Democrats made a point of mentioning Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who was in Seattle with President Obama. Murray, who is locked in a bitter campaign against Republican Dino Rossi, was praised for her role in securing the final $30 million in federal stimulus money to finish the project.
"When people come to Congress and say, we need your help, there are people who say, well, good luck with that. We'll watch to see how that turns out," said retiring Rep. Brian Bard, D- Wash., a jab at Republicans who oppose spending on infrastructure projects.
Murray didn't say good luck. "She said, by God, we're going to make that happen," Baird said.
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs