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Judge Refuses to Toss Suit Against Columbia Dredging

by Associated Press
Spokesman Review, August 9, 2000

Opponents claim NMFS erred in approving plan to deepen channel

ASTORIA, Ore. -- A federal judge has rejected a motion to dismiss a lawsuit environmentalists filed to block plans to deepen the Columbia River channel so bigger ships can get into Portland.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein in Seattle also denied a government request to move the lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service from Seattle to Portland.

"It's a victory in a skirmish," said Peter Huhtala, executive director of Astoria-based Columbia Deepening Opposition Group. "It's a bit of a break."

Representing NMFS in the lawsuit, the U.S. Department of Justice had asked Rothstein to throw out the complaint because the Army Corps of Engineers has yet to issue a final decision about deepening the channel.

Environmental groups are suing NMFS in federal court, claiming the fisheries agency botched its ruling to approve the $196 million channel deepening project.

In a "biological opinion" completed late last year, the agency said the project complied with the federal Endangered Species Act.

NMFS approved the channel deepening with the condition that the Corps of Engineers take sweeping measures to restore salmon habitat after the work is completed.

In February, several environmental groups sued NMFS for failing to protect salmon or sensitive habitat. The lawsuit asks the court to order NMFS to throw out its biological opinion and conduct another.

If the court forces NMFS to withdraw its biological opinion, the corps cannot move forward until another opinion is completed.

Astoria-based Salmon For All and Columbia Riverkeeper recently filed documents asking to join the lawsuit. Huhtala is a Columbia Riverkeeper board member.

"Hopefully we'll be able to hold the National Marine Fisheries Service's feet to the fire," Huhtala said.

Associated Press
Judge Refuses to Toss Suit Against Columbia Dredging
Spokesman Review, August 9, 2000

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