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Commentaries and editorials

We Need the Help

by Editorial Board
The Daily Astorian, August 3, 2010

One person's pork project is another's vital, non-debatable federal priority

Across the land, congressional press releases announcing federal spending on local projects are a rite of the summer before elections. This year is no different. This is not a bad thing.

For all the genuine concerns about the federal deficit, one of the biggest reasons we elect senators and representatives is to look after our needs at the U.S. Capitol. If you live by an interstate highway, you want to make sure there are smooth new on- and off-ramps leading into your downtown. If you live in wheat country, you want federal crop supports and federally subsidized rail and barge connections to your markets.

If you live here, you should care about maintaining all sorts of federal support. A few things that wouldn't exist or couldn't last long without it include the Astoria-Megler Bridge, U.S. Highway 101, Lewis and Clark National Park, the National Wildlife Refuges, the U.S. Coast Guard ... the list goes on and on.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., sent out a press release announcing her success in lining up some $23 million in ongoing work on federal river navigation projects. It is the sort of thing her potential Republican opponents scoff at and point to as a reason to dump the three-term incumbent. Her most likely General Election rival following the Aug. 17 primary is former state Sen. Dino Rossi, who has explicitly said he will try to end the current congressional earmark process.

This partly is an iteration of the time-tested truism that one person's pork project is another's vital, non-debatable federal priority. Murray was, for example, a leader of efforts to fund the Columbia channel-deepening project, which many here viewed as a big waste with potential environmental downsides. But it was viewed as a do-or-die deal for upriver ports and labor leaders.

Much of the money Murray announced last week will go toward dredging the mouth of the Columbia and planning for restoration of the jetties. To someone in Nebraska, this would look like pork, but for the Pacific Northwest, $16 billion in annual exports and imports depends on maintaining the river's viability for deep-water shipping.

Similarly, the $800,000 she announced for dredging at Ilwaco and $900,000 at Chinook wasn't even requested by President Obama. And yet the economies of these two small towns would collapse without their linkages to the main channel of the Columbia.

Pork? We don't think so.

Murray has done a spectacular job looking out for Washington state's rural people and industries. Maybe there are some who would prefer to live on our remote coastline without the help she has shepherded our direction. We are not among them. We need the help and we need Patty Murray.

Editorial Board
We Need the Help
The Daily Astorian, August 3, 2010

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