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Don't Take Linwood Laughy's Word for It

by Marty Trillhaase
Lewiston Tribune, January 31, 2013

(Steve Hanks) A pair of Tidewater barges and a tug head to Portland. The economics of barging grain from Lewiston have been challenged. Dredging the Ports of Lewiston and Clarkston as well as the shipping channel of the lower Snake River may not be worth the money.

So says Linwood Laughy of Kooskia. The megaload opponent worked his way through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 20-year plan to maintain shipping lanes to Lewiston and Clarkston and produced a "bridge to nowhere" scenario:

Including the $16 million spent on the corps study, the feds plan to spend $3.2 million a year, Linwood says.

That works out to $18,900 a barge - or a subsidy of $5.40 a ton.

Not so, complains the navigation community.

But what has it offered in response?

Bland generalities. Navigation spares wear and tear on highways. It opens world markets to local producers.

Criticism of Laughy's motives.

Arguments that his analysis omitted the Port of Clarkston - and that port had "one of its better years" in 2012. Port Terminal Manager Arvid Lyons offered the Tribune's Eric Barker nothing more specific, however.

"That's all you need to know," he said.

Comments focused on the media rather than the message.

"We are aware of various media reports and editorials and so forth, but I would caution that guessing at numbers based on past costs and extrapolating them into the future may or may not be accurate," says corps spokesman Bruce Henrickson.

OK. Then let's get some accurate numbers.

Let's get them from a neutral source.

How about the Government Accountability Office?

Whenever Congress has an itch to investigate how money comes in to the government and where it flows out, it turns to the GAO.

Why not have the GAO take a look at Laughy's numbers? Ask it to review the corps' dredging plans. Examine what's been spent on past dredging and the study.

Look over shipping patterns to chart future demand for the channel to Portland.

For good measure, consider how much the public - either through taxes or electric rates - is spending to preserve salmon and steelhead runs endangered by the four lower Snake dams.

Any number of Northwest politicians could launch the GAO into action.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., controls the gavel on the Senate Budget Committee as well as the appropriations subcommittee that deals with transportation.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, has a seat on Energy and Natural Resources.

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, is a member of Environment and Public Works.

Congressman Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, sits on House Natural Resources.

And Congressman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, is No. 2 on the appropriations subcommittee that deals with energy and water development.

It's been 200 years since Albert Gallatin, Thomas Jefferson's treasury secretary, prepared his report on railroads and canals that served as the blueprint for the 19th century.

It's been more than a century since President Theodore Roosevelt unveiled his own inland waterways review.

It's been more than a half-century since Dwight Eisenhower launched the interstate highway system.

In the absence of a coherent national strategy, the U.S. apportions money toward waterways, rail and highways based on the clout of individual members of Congress, not what makes sense and what doesn't.

Considering the federal government is broke, now is as good a time as any to answer Laughy's questions. - M.T.

Commodity Tonnage traveling through the Columbia/Snake River 1990 - 2010

Related Pages:
Analysis Questions Economics of Barging by Eric Barker, Lewiston Tribune, 1/21/13

Electric Power Foregone to Lock Flush by Oregon Natural Resource Council, Restoring the Lower Snake River
Energy Intensities of Freight: Barge, Truck and Railroad US Department of Energy, Transportation Energy Data Book
Shipping Wheat: Truck or Barge? by Ken Casavant, Transportation Report 1995
Snake River Freight by Army Corps of Engineers, Government Report
Snake River Commodity Tonnage by Army Corps of Engineers, Data from 1990-2010
Lewiston Container Shipping by Port of Lewiston, Fact Sheet, 1997
Montana Grain on Lower Snake River by Montana Wheat & Barley, Data from 1985-2001
Snake River Barge Rates by Tidewater Barge Lines, Rate Schedule

Marty Trillhaase
Don't Take Linwood Laughy's Word for It
Lewiston Tribune, January 31, 2013

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