Two Pacific Northwest port districts are seeking approval to dredge sediment in their berthing areas on the Snake River, while approval to dredge the federal navigation channel may come in the spring of 2014.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers districts in Seattle and Walla Walla are seeking public comment on the Port of Lewiston and Port of Clarkston’s applications to dredge port berthing areas and dispose of dredged materials.
Written comments are due to the corps by Dec. 18.
Kristin Meira, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, said the ports are submitting applications for their private areas where vessels pull up to park.
The waterways association supports the port applications.
The work is “absolutely critical,” Meira said, noting routine maintenance has not been done for many years at the ports.
“In many parts of the system, port berths need to be dredged every year,” Meira said. “We’re actually quite pleased that we have a part of the river that can go this long without any maintenance activity at all, but it is time for the ports to get out there and do some work.”
Earlier this year, the corps announced it would be postponing the environmental impact statement (EIS) programmatic sediment management plan, delaying dredging slated for this winter by at least a year.
Bruce Henrickson, public affairs specialist for the corps district in Walla Walla, said the corps expects to finalize the final EIS by spring of 2014, sometime between late March and late June. The final EIS will be put out for public review for 30 days.
Part of the sediment management plan is a proposed action to dredge once to meet an immediate need to dredge the federal navigation channel in the Lewiston-Clarkston area.
“Over time, sediment has accumulated in portions of the navigation channel,” Henrickson said. “Sediment is in the way now in portions of the channel and is likely to get more in the way going forward.”
Dredging is the only effective short-term tool, Henrickson said. The corps could also consider other options, all of which would require additional environmental review.
Once the EIS is finalized, it goes to the Northwestern Division commander in Portland, for approval.
The port districts’ application are a parallel but separate process, Henrickson said. Regulatory review of the applications are also expected to be completed by spring of 2014.
Limited, targeted maintenance dredging is the next step to ensuring the transportation system continues to function, Meira said.
The inland Columbia-Snake River system sees roughly 10 million tons of cargo each year.
About 40 to 50 percent of the roughly 11 million tons of wheat that leave the lower Columbia River annually originates from the inland barging system, grown by farmers in eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, northern Idaho and western Montana.
“This is their access to world markets,” Meira said. “When they are able to make use of efficient transportation systems, they are able to compete with farmers around the world in those markets.”