What Future for the Lower Snake River Waterway?
In late 2012, the Army Corps of Engineers’ in Washington State released a document and started a critically important conversation about the future of the lower Snake River waterway – and its use as a barge transportation corridor. It’s a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) about sediment management for the waterway. Save Our wild Salmon, in concert with several others groups and the Nez Perce Tribe, has begun work to understand this Dredging DEIS, how the Army Corps would like to manage sediment, shipping and taxpayer dollars in the Lower Snake River for decades to come. The results of our collective research culminated in extensive comments that we submitted in late March before the comment deadline.
Though the Army Corps is not explicit, the future of the waterway as a transportation corridor is this document's real subject and issue. Read below to learn how this new regional discussion is taking shape. Local citizens are challenging the Army Corps' numbers and analyses. Understanding the actual value of this waterway in the 21st Century - its costs and benefits - and who pays and who benefits - and its risks, must be the foundation for any decisions about its future. Freight transport options in and out of the Lewiston/Clarkston area are essential for local farmers and other businesses, but shipping alternatives exist and these need to be part of this larger discussion.
Tri-City Herald Guest Opinion - In Focus: Aging infrastructure and scarce dollars means tough decisions for the Northwest
By Norm Ritchie
Sunday - December 7, 2014
The Northwest’s aging infrastructure hit the headlines in 2014. First came discovery of a massive 65-foot crack in the Columbia River’s Wanapum Dam, followed by news of disintegrating gates in lower Snake River dam navigation locks that disrupted waterway traffic for weeks and cost taxpayers millions of dollars to repair. Then the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began a seven-year project to “shore up” at-risk jetties at the mouth of the Columbia River that’s certain to cost far more than the projected $257 million.
You’d think the federal government would have sat up and taken notice. You’d be wrong.
Despite a growing backlog of unfunded infrastructure maintenance projects regionally and nationally, the Corps will cap 2014 with a “new” plan to spend millions more each year to prop up a lower Snake River navigation waterway of marginal and dwindling economic value.
Our regional economy depends on taxpayer-built and -maintained dams, levees, waterways, irrigation systems, highways and bridges to deliver reliable transportation, cheap electricity, abundant food and flood control.
But the resources to address our infrastructural needs are shrinking.
Maintenance costs are rising rapidly on 50- to 75-year-old projects like the Portland levees and Columbia River jetties, setting up a number of tough “repair-or-remove” decisions for the Northwest. The balance sheets show that repairing Wanapum makes economic sense, as does dismantling three outdated dams on the Elwha and White Salmon rivers.
With the recent release of a report from the Army Corps of Engineers, a new conversation has opened up on the dubious value of the lower Snake River barging corridor. Over the last 15 years, shipping on the river has plummeted, maintenance needs have ballooned and non-barging transportation alternatives have expanded.
Lower Snake container traffic is a quarter of what it was in 1998, now amounting to just 4 percent of the total traffic on the combined Columbia/Snake. Government figures show taxpayer subsidies for the waterway surging to as much as $10 million a year. Meanwhile farmers near the lower Snake are investing millions of their own dollars to expand a local rail network that will draw even more business away from the river.
The Corps’ sediment management plan released in August evades any honest assessment of waterway costs, benefits and viability. It ignores the region’s infrastructure challenges and does a great disservice to river businesses and communities that need reliable information to effectively target their own limited resources.
The Corps could and should be freeing up exceedingly scarce dollars to fund a suite of pressing maintenance projects on the far-more-valuable lower Columbia waterway. It should acknowledge the necessity of investing in a modern, sustainable transportation network to serve lower Snake River communities — and assist a transition there that can help secure much-needed resources to protect and preserve aging-but-valuable infrastructure on the lower Columbia.
A 2012 Corps-commissioned National Academy of Sciences study offers three prescriptions for dealing with the Corps’ growing multi-billion-dollar project backlog: find more money, invest in the valuable projects and cut loose under-performing ones.
Given scarce federal dollars, the Corps needs to help Northwest people face and make difficult choices on the lower Snake and elsewhere. Until then, our communities and our tax dollars will remain at risk.
Norm Ritchie is a retired professional engineer. He lives in SE Portland with his wife.
Lewiston Tribune: Dredging plan spawns lawsuit
November 25, 2014
By ERIC BARKER
Placing a target on the four lower Snake River dams and their influence on imperiled salmon, steelhead and lamprey, environmental groups and the Nez Perce Tribe filed a lawsuit Monday to stop planned dredging this winter of the Snake and Clearwater rivers near Lewiston.
The suit, filed in Seattle's federal District Court, claims the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act while preparing its plan to remove about 400,000 cubic yards of sediment from the navigation channel that makes barge transportation possible between Lewiston and Pasco.
The suit also alleges the agency failed to take a hard look at whether it is economically justifiable to maintain the river transportation system that has seen a dramatic decline in some cargo in recent years.
"The lower Snake River waterway exacts an enormous price from taxpayers as well as from wild salmon, steelhead and Pacific lamprey," said EarthJustice attorney Steve Mashuda. "The corps has failed to look at any alternatives to dredging this winter and fails to provide an honest assessment of the fiscal and environmental costs involved in shoring up this out-of-date waterway."
Mashuda represents several environmental and fishing groups, including Idaho Rivers United, Friends of the Clearwater, the Pacific Federation of Fisherman's Associations, the Sierra Club, Washington Wildlife Federation and Institute of Fisheries Resources. The suit was filed in conjunction with attorneys employed by the tribe.
The corps' Walla Walla District spent $16 millions to prepare the plan that was approved last week. It calls for spending another $6.7 million to carry out the dredging, scheduled to begin Dec. 15. The plan also includes a host of long-term measures such as sediment flushing, in-water mechanisms and levee raising, which can be used maintain the shipping channel and the capacity of the river to handle high flows.
Press release: Fishing, conservation groups challenge Corps’
costly dredging of lower Snake River
For more information contact:
Steve Mashuda, EarthJustice, 206-343-7340x1027
Joseph Bogaard, Save Our Wild Salmon, 206-300-1003
Kevin Lewis, Idaho Rivers United, 208-343-7481
Gary Macfarlane, Friends of the Clearwater, 208-882-9755
Nov. 24, 2014
SEATTLE -- Today Northwest fishing and conservation groups joined with the Nez Perce Tribe in taking legal action against costly, illegal dredging on the lower Snake River aimed at propping up an outdated, environmentally destructive, money-losing waterway.
Non-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice, representing Idaho Rivers United, Pacific Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute of Fisheries Resources, Washington Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club and Friends of the Clearwater, filed a complaint with Seattle’s U.S. District Court challenging the Corps’ approval of a $6.7 million lower Snake River dredging project scheduled to begin next month.
Dredging behind lower Granite Dam is the centerpiece of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Walla Walla district’s ill-advised plan for maintaining the little-used barging corridor between Pasco, Wash., and Lewiston, Idaho. Though shipping on the Columbia River waterway remains robust, traffic on the lower Snake is so low that it qualifies for the Corps’ own “negligible use” project category.
The Corps’ Walla Walla District released its draft sediment management plan two years ago, asserting that dredging would provide $25 million in benefits but offering no supporting economic analysis.
Fishing and conservation groups and the Nez Perce Tribe have challenged the Corps plan because it puts salmon, steelhead, and Pacific lamprey at serious risk, purposefully dodges any real look at alternatives to dredging, and ignores the shaky economic justification for the barge corridor created by the four lower Snake River dams.
Despite thousands of comments noting the plan’s glaring errors and omissions, the Corps last week issued a record of decision adopting the plan. The agency immediately signed a contract with a dredging contractor to begin work December 15.
“The lower Snake waterway exacts an enormous price from taxpayers as well as from wild salmon, steelhead, and Pacific Lamprey”, said Earthjustice attorney Steve Mashuda. “The Corps has failed to look at any alternatives to dredging this winter, and fails to provide an honest assessment of the fiscal and environmental costs involved in shoring up this out-of-date waterway.”
“These four dams are responsible for pushing the Snake River’s wild salmon and steelhead to the edge of extinction.” said SOS executive director Joseph Bogaard. “Climate change and other factors are making the lower Snake River dams ever more deadly to migrating fish while the economic justification for this waterway is slipping away.”
Over the past 15 years, the lower Snake waterway’s freight volume has declined 64 percent as farmers and other shippers move their products to trucks or rail. Maintenance expenses, meanwhile, have surged. Lewiston faces a chronic crisis of sedimentation and U.S. taxpayers now effectively subsidize every barge leaving Lewiston to the tune of about $18,000.
Navigation is the primary purpose of these dams. They generate significant power primarily in the spring, when power demand and prices are low and the Northwest is awash in hydropower—so much so that wind farms are often forced to shut down.
“Every year, the federal government spends increasing amounts of tax dollars to prop up four obsolete dams on the lower Snake River,” said IRU Conservation Director Kevin Lewis. “Our specific claims include violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Clean Water Act.”
“This boondoggle is yet another example of how more and more tax dollars are spent to prop up the four outdated dams on the lower Snake River,” said Gary MacFarlane of Friends of the Clearwater. “Little thought has been given to the long-term economic and environmental consequences of long-term dredging.”
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Lewiston Tribune: Clearwater Paper's new warehouse could hurt port
By ELAINE WILLIAMS of the Tribune
November 23, 2014 12:00 am
Construction crews are working to complete the new warehouse at Clearwater Paper that will hold paper board rolls for shipment.
A new warehouse at Clearwater Paper is expected to make the manufacturer's operations more efficient as it creates challenges for the already-hurting Port of Lewiston.
Clearwater Paper is building a 40,000-square-foot, 28-foot-tall, $4.5 million addition to the storage and loading facility for paperboard and pulp at its Lewiston site.
The project is expected to be completed by the end of December and save hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in reduced handling for paperboard rolls. Those innovations, however, will come at a cost to the Port of Lewiston.
Right now, Clearwater Paper's Lewiston site only has about 15,000 square feet of storage space for giant rolls of paperboard, which range from 60 to 72 inches in diameter. The paperboard is sold to customers who turn it into cups, food containers and packaging for items like cosmetics.
To compensate, Clearwater Paper hauls most rolls to Terminal II, a 150,000-square-foot warehouse 11/2 miles away at the port, then back to the plant for additional processing before shipping, said the paper mill's spokesman, Matt Van Vleet.
Clearwater Paper is the largest customer of Terminal II, the biggest building the port owns. It is operated by a private business, Inland 465, whose representatives did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Lewiston port had difficult fiscal 2014
October 9, 2014
By ELAINE WILLIAMS
The Port of Lewiston lost $445,497 on its day-to-day operations in fiscal year 2014 as cargo leaving the area in containers continued to slump.
The figure signals a continuation of a trend that emerged last year when the port lost $92,435 in the same area, according to an audit port commissioners reviewed Wednesday.
Numbers include revenue from use of port-owned properties and its container operations, which have historically funded routine port functions.
They exclude money the port receives from property taxes, land transactions and government grants, which equaled $2.2 million in 2014, according to the audit by accounting firm Presnell Gage of Lewiston.
Revenue dropped by almost $125,000, to $1.3 million in 2014, as expenses rose from $1.5 million to $1.7 million.
One of the reasons there was less money available involves container volumes. The number of containers the port handled fell to 4,439 in 2013, compared with a high of 17,611 in 1997. This year, the port has handled 2,108 containers through the end of September, compared with 3,205 in the same time last year.
Tell the Corps: Stop wasteful spending. Protect our wild salmon!
Please submit your official public comment to the Army Corps of Engineers: ask it to stop spending public money to dredge the lower Snake River unless and until an honest economic analysis shows these four dams’ benefits outweigh their tremendous costs to the public, to salmon and steelhead, and to water quality and the river's health.
Click here to send a pre-written, editable letter. The deadline is Sept 22.
The Army Corps of Engineers is once again proposing expensive dredging in the lower Snake River without justifying the costs to the public - or addressing harms to water quality or endangered wild salmon and steelhead.
In August, the Corps released its 2014 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) proposing a taxpayer-financed plan to "manage" the millions of tons of sediment piling up behind Lower Granite Dam on the lower Snake River. It is accepting public comment until Sept 22.
Lower Snake River sediment is a big problem - one of many problems created by the four lower Snake dams. In just a few decades, millions of cubic yards of sediment have settled in the reservoir behind Lower Granite Dam near Lewiston (ID) and Clarkston (WA). It's created an ever-worsening flood risk for these towns and huge expense for American taxpayers.
- Aug 19, 2014 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: Dredging on docket for Snake River
- Jun 25, 2014 - Lewiston Morning Tribune Letters to the Editor
- Jun 20, 2014 - Lewiston Tribune: Activists descend on Lewiston port hearing
- Apr 30, 2014 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: New economic data emerges in dams debate
- Apr 12, 2014 - Lewiston Tribune: Group says megaloads threaten rivers
- Mar 26, 2014 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: Lock repair at Little Goose has shippers scrambling;
- Jan 15, 2014 - High Country News: Megaloads and wild–and-scenic rivers don’t mix
- Dec 17, 2013 - Protect the Lower Snake-Oppose Harmful, Unlawful Dredging!
- Dec 04, 2013 - Lewiston Tribune: Getting to the bottom of the issue
- Nov 14, 2013 - Lewiston Tribune: Dredging up an endless debate
- Oct 25, 2013 - Lewiston Tribune: Megaloads company gives up legal fight
- Oct 23, 2013 - Wall Street Journal: Road Too Far: GE Strains to Deliver Energy Colossus
- Oct 07, 2013 - Lewiston Tribune: Much more McGregor
- Oct 07, 2013 - Lewiston Tribune: Bye-Bye to barging on the Snake, Clearwater?
- Sep 27, 2013 - Al Jazeera: Tribe fights to save historic river way
- Sep 27, 2013 - Lewiston Tribune editorial: Idaho lost more than a megaload court case
- Sep 27, 2013 - New York Times: Fight Over Energy Finda a New Front in a Corner of Idaho
- Sep 17, 2013 - Spokesman-Review Editorial: Thorough, fair ruling for U.S. 12 megaloads
- Sep 17, 2013 - Lewiston Tribune: Judge suspends megaloads
- Aug 19, 2013 - Seattle Times: Snake River barging drop: new factor in dams debate?
- Aug 16, 2013 - For Immediate Release: Corps Delay to Dredge Lower Snake Shows Need for More Study
- Aug 08, 2013 - Nez Perce Tribe Blockades Tar Sands
- Jul 26, 2013 - SOS Letter to Forest Service re: megaloads and salmon
- Jul 22, 2013 - For immediate release: Five myths about freight transportation on the Lower Snake River
- Jun 28, 2013 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: Port of Lewiston meeting takes an existential turn
- Jun 07, 2013 - LMT Guest Opinion: If you do the math, dams don't add up
- May 05, 2013 - Spokesman Review guest opinion: It’s time to assess use of shrinking tax dollars on lower Snake River dams
- Apr 23, 2013 - AP: Dredge plan draws opposition
- Mar 07, 2013 - Old Arguments, New Realities
- Mar 07, 2013 - Lewiston Morning Tribune Editorial: Don't take Linwood Laughy's word for it
- Jan 25, 2013 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: Dredging costs rise to top of meeting
- Jan 24, 2013 - Rocky Barker Blog: Corps faces a fight over dredging behind Lower Snake dams.
- Jan 24, 2013 - Lewiston Morning Tribune Editorial: Judging River Dredging Plan By the Numbers
- Jan 23, 2013 - The Sediment Statement and the Lower Snake River Waterway