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Group Wants to Stop Dredging

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, November 2, 2002

Campaign against plan to dredge lower Snake River could begin with a lawsuit

Environmental groups are mounting a campaign against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' plan to dredge the lower Snake River this winter and beyond.

The campaign could begin with a lawsuit aimed at stopping the dredging that would deepen the shipping channel and also remove sediment from ports and recreation areas.

The Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition says the plan will harm salmon and steelhead, is based on faulty economics and ignores less environmentally and economically costly alternatives.

"Numerous agencies and tribes have urged them not to do it and as usual you have the corps barreling ahead with their preferred approach," said Jan Hasselman of the National Wildlife Federation at Portland. Hasselman cites comments submitted by several agencies including the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Environmental Protection Agency and Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission that find fault with parts of the plan.

The coalition's own comments read like a court complaint and point out what it calls inadequacies with the range of alternatives considered by the corps to maintain the shipping channel. The comments also cite problems the coalition has with the cost-benefit analysis conducted by the agency.

Hasselman said the corps used economic analysis that is outdated and has been discredited and removed from other corps documents.

For instance, a review of the economic analysis commissioned by the coalition says the corps used inflated estimates of the amount of wheat expected to be shipped on the river. Those estimates in turn increased economic benefits expected from dredging.

"The other substantial flaw in what they have done is rely on an economic analysis that is so unbelievably misleading that it kind of boggles the mind."

However, a corps spokeswoman said the numbers were updated and run again and still showed dredging will have a positive economic impact.

"The new forecast lowered projections for commodities shipments but had minimal effects on the results and did not change the original findings," said Nola Conway at Walla Walla.

Hasselman would not say if the coalition will file a lawsuit to try to stop the dredging plan but hinted the group was leaning in that direction.

"I'm a lawyer," he said. "And I've been very busy."

Bill Sedivy, director of Idaho Rivers United at Boise, another member of the coalition, said his and other salmon groups have grave concerns with the dredging plan.

"We are evaluating our options. Sometime very soon we will figure out what we need to do in this case and we will do it."

Corps spokeswoman Conway noted the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is responsible for recovery of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead runs, approved the plan.

"Environmental compliance has been coordinated with the appropriate agencies."

She said the document that outlines dredging planned for this winter and other actions for the next 20 years, including raising portions of the Lewiston levee by three feet, responds to each of the issues raised by the coalition and other entities.

One of the chief complaints raised by the environmental groups is the four alternatives considered by the corps were all nearly identical. Each of them included dredging the shipping channel and three included plans to raise the levee. The alternatives differed only in the way the dredge spoils would be disposed of.

Hasselman said the corps should have included an alternative that would use high spring flows and drawdowns to flush sediments past the dams and also one that would limit sediment entering the river by reforming upriver agricultural and timber harvest practices.

The same issues were raised by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The corps does address flushing and managing sediment before it reaches the river, but not as full-blown alternatives to dredging.

"They acknowledge this has potential, but they refuse to take a look at it," said Hasselman. "It raises legal questions about deficiencies in the (Environmental Impact Statement) they have issued."

The corps' written response says sediments could be reduced by as much as 37 percent by reforming land management practices, but it does not own or have authority over most of the land where the practices take place. It also noted such reforms would not preclude the need for dredging.

The corps said sediment flushing would only work in conjunction with drawdowns, which could cause problems to other facilities and would only move the problem of sediment downstream. It also said sediment flushing would not preclude the need for dredging.

Port of Lewiston manager David Doeringsfeld said grain barges have not been filled to capacity for the past year because of sediment at the port's birthing areas and turning basin.

"Right now there is really no impact to container barges, but grain barges are being light loaded."

About 250 grain barges leave ports on the lower Snake River each year, according to Doeringsfeld.

Arvid Lyons, manager of the Lewis Clark Terminal, said grain barges are leaving the port 100 tons below capacity and taking longer to load because of the sediment.

The ports are scheduled to be dredged this winter but each port district is required to pay for the dredging on its property.

Dredging planned for last winter was delayed when Indian tribes and environmental groups asked the National Marine Fisheries Service to review dredging plans to ensure they would not harm salmon and steelhead on the endangered species list.

In response the corps produced a 20-year dredging management plan that addressed the possible impacts of dredging.

Eric Barker
Group Wants to Stop Dredging
Lewiston Tribune, November 2, 2002

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