What Future for the Lower Snake River Waterway?

navigationIn 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.  

High Country News: Livin' on the dredge: Army Corps mucks out the Snake

imageDo the benefits of barge traffic outweigh the cost of dams?

Ben Goldfarb Jan. 21, 2015
On the morning on January 12, not far from the Idaho-Washington border, a clawlike dredge descended from a crane, scooped up a wad of sediment from the bottom of the Snake River, and dumped the sludge into the bed of a waiting barge. For the first time in nine years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had begun dredging the Snake — a project the agency claims will preserve the economic viability of the river’s ports, and which environmentalists say is just another harmful boondoggle on a river that’s seen too many of them.  

For the feds, mucking out the Snake is a no-brainer. Last year, some 3 million tons of commodities — lentils, timber, wheat and other goods — were barged down the river. But the Snake hasn’t been dredged since 2006, and sediment has built up, especially at its confluence with the Clearwater River. Though the Corps has a congressional mandate to keep the channel 14 feet deep, Port of Clarkston manager Wanda Keefer recently said it’s down to 7 feet in some places, and barges have run aground.

The Ice Harbor Dam is one of two sites being dredged. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Most navigation channels require dredging every two or three years,” says Kristin Meira, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association. “We’re long overdue, and the situation has gotten pretty bad.”

But this is the Snake, one of the most politically fraught rivers in the country, a waterway where even seemingly routine maintenance is anything but. Though the Corps has timed its dredging to minimize harm to endangered salmon and steelhead, the nearby Nez Perce Tribe is worried about damage to another fish: Pacific lamprey, the prehistoric, eel-like creatures whose populations have been ravaged by dams. The tribe’s primary concern is that dredging will wreak havoc on lamprey larvae, which bury themselves in sediment. The tribe has spent years trying to restore the species, and tribal executive committee member Dan Kane fears that dredging could undo that progress. “We’ve come a long way, but (lamprey) is still a very limited resource,” Kane says.


For Immediate Release:  Court declines injunction request to prevent lower Snake dredging this winter; legal challenge by fishing businesses, conservation groups and Nez Perce Tribe moves forward

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

Jan. 5, 2015

SEATTLE -- Today the Honorable Judge James L. Robart of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, declined to issue an injunction to stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from dredging the lower Snake waterway this winter.  The court is expected to consider the full merits of the case itself later this year.  

Last November, non-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice, representing Idaho Rivers United, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Washington Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club and Friends of the Clearwater, joined with the Nez Perce Tribe to file a complaint challenging the Corps’ approval of a $6.7 million lower Snake River dredging project scheduled to begin this month.

Fishing businesses, conservation groups, and the Nez Perce Tribe challenged the Corps plan developed by the Walla Walla District because it puts salmon, steelhead, and Pacific lamprey at serious risk, purposefully dodges any real look at alternatives to dredging, and in defiance of Corps’ policies ignores the shaky economic justification for the barge corridor created by the four lower Snake River dams.   In addition the Corps’ Walla Walla District failed to consider impacts from climate change.  


Lewiston Morning Tribune: Port brass defend dredging plan

dredging copyBy Eric Barker

Wednesday, December 31, 2014 12:00 am

Port managers David Doeringsfeld and Wanda Keefer said Tuesday the four lower Snake River dams and the water transportation and hydroelectric power they make possible are critical drivers of the local economy.
They also said planned dredging of the lower Snake River navigation channel and port berthing areas, which is subject to a court challenge, is needed to keep the river transportation system safe and viable.

Doeringsfeld of the Port of Lewiston and Keefer of the Port of Clarkston spoke Tuesday to the Clarkston Rotary Club and sought to counter a recent campaign by port critics and supporters of dam breaching that paints both the ports and dams as economically unjustified.

"Ports are job creation engines for their areas," Doeringsfeld said.

Critics allege the cost to keep the dams and maintain the navigation channel far outweighs any economic benefit derived from shipping goods on the river. Last month, the Nez Perce Tribe and a coalition of environmental groups led by Idaho Rivers United filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the planned removal of about 400,000 cubic yards of sediment from the Lower Snake and Clearwater rivers. That work could start as soon as Jan. 12, but a hearing on a requested dredging injunction will take place Monday.


Columbia Basin Bulletin: Lower Snake Dredging Opponents: Loss Of Revenues Does Not Out Weigh Irreparable Environmental Injury

pol.copyWednesday, December 31, 2014

The potential for “substantial and irreparable harm to Pacific lamprey and listed salmon and steelhead from dredging” outweighs the benefits that a navigation channel clearing operation might bring, according to plaintiffs seeking a federal court order to stop a planned U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project.

Under legal precedent, getting a preliminary injunction to stop the planned dredging requires that the conservation groups and Nez Perce Tribe show that irreparable harm will result without a court action, and that challenges to the federal dredging/sediment management plans approved by the Corps earlier this year have legal merit.

“Plaintiffs have demonstrated they are likely to succeed on their claims that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ last-minute proposal to dredge the Lower Snake River violated the National Environmental Policy Act and Clean Water Act by failing to consider alternatives to dredging and by failing to take a hard look at the environmental and economic effects of its actions,” according to a brief filed Dec. 19 by the plaintiffs.

The dredging cleanout of the federal navigation channel near the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers is scheduled to begin in early January.


eelLewiston Morning Tribune: Pacific lamprey could halt dredging

By Eric Barker, Lewiston Morning Tribune

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The fate of planned dredging on the lower Snake and Clearwater rivers this winter could hinge on its potential to harm Pacific lamprey, whether the $6.7 million project is economically justifiable and whether other options might be available.

The Nez Perce Tribe and a coalition of environmental groups will square off against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and supporters of commercial navigation in a Seattle courtroom Jan. 5 in a battle over the plan to remove about 400,000 cubic yards of sediment from the navigation channel near Lewiston.

The tribe and environmental groups have sued to stop the work and are asking District Court Judge James Robart to delay dredging until the case runs its course. The corps and its supporters want dredging to begin Jan. 12.

In order to win an injunction, the plaintiffs must show they are likely to win the overall case, likely to be irreparably harmed if the action isn't stopped, that balance of equities tips in their favor and an injunction would be in the public interest. While final arguments will be made in front of Robart, both sides have filed motions laying out their case.


NWPR.bargingNorthwest Public Radio: $2 Million In Taxpayer Dollars At Risk In Snake River Dredging Showdown

By Tom Banse - December 16, 2014

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is making a high-stakes bet that it will prevail in a pending lawsuit over Snake River dredging.

Two million taxpayer dollars could go to waste if environmental challengers succeed in blocking dredging of the West Coast's farthest inland ports.

On Friday, the Corps of Engineers ordered its Tacoma-based dredging contractor to get in position to begin maintenance dredging around the river ports of Clarkston and Lewiston on or around January 12. Meanwhile, a federal district court judge in Seattle will hear oral arguments on January 2 on the environmental challenge.

In a new court filing, Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Vail, the Army Corps' district commander, estimated an injunction would leave taxpayers on the hook for "upwards of $2,000,000" to pay the contractor to mobilize and then demobilize.

The Army Corps decided not to wait for the lawsuit to be resolved because there is a narrow window to work in the Snake River between salmon migrations. The in-water work window lasts from December 15 to March 1.


More Articles...

  1. Dec 08, 2014 - Guest Opinion: Aging infrastructure and scarce dollars means tough decisions
  2. Nov 25, 2014 - Lewiston Tribune: Dredging plan spawns lawsuit
  3. Nov 25, 2014 - Press release: Fishing, conservation groups challenge Corps' costly dredging of lower Snake River
  4. Nov 24, 2014 - Lewiston Tribune: Clearwater Paper's new warehouse could hurt port
  5. Oct 09, 2014 - Lewiston Tribune: Lewiston port had difficult fiscal 2014
  6. Sep 11, 2014 - ACTION ALERT - Stop wasteful spending. Protect our wild salmon!
  7. Aug 19, 2014 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: Dredging on docket for Snake River
  8. Jun 25, 2014 - Lewiston Morning Tribune Letters to the Editor
  9. Jun 20, 2014 - Lewiston Tribune: Activists descend on Lewiston port hearing
  10. Apr 30, 2014 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: New economic data emerges in dams debate
  11. Apr 12, 2014 - Lewiston Tribune: Group says megaloads threaten rivers
  12. Mar 26, 2014 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: Lock repair at Little Goose has shippers scrambling;
  13. Jan 15, 2014 - High Country News: Megaloads and wild–and-scenic rivers don’t mix
  14. Dec 17, 2013 - Protect the Lower Snake-Oppose Harmful, Unlawful Dredging!
  15. Dec 04, 2013 - Lewiston Tribune: Getting to the bottom of the issue
  16. Nov 14, 2013 - Lewiston Tribune: Dredging up an endless debate
  17. Oct 25, 2013 - Lewiston Tribune: Megaloads company gives up legal fight
  18. Oct 23, 2013 - Wall Street Journal: Road Too Far: GE Strains to Deliver Energy Colossus
  19. Oct 07, 2013 - Lewiston Tribune: Much more McGregor
  20. Oct 07, 2013 - Lewiston Tribune: Bye-Bye to barging on the Snake, Clearwater?
  21. Sep 27, 2013 - Al Jazeera: Tribe fights to save historic river way
  22. Sep 27, 2013 - Lewiston Tribune editorial: Idaho lost more than a megaload court case
  23. Sep 27, 2013 - New York Times: Fight Over Energy Finda a New Front in a Corner of Idaho
  24. Sep 17, 2013 - Spokesman-Review Editorial: Thorough, fair ruling for U.S. 12 megaloads
  25. Sep 17, 2013 - Lewiston Tribune: Judge suspends megaloads
  26. Aug 19, 2013 - Seattle Times: Snake River barging drop: new factor in dams debate?
  27. Aug 16, 2013 - For Immediate Release: Corps Delay to Dredge Lower Snake Shows Need for More Study
  28. Aug 08, 2013 - Nez Perce Tribe Blockades Tar Sands
  29. Jul 26, 2013 - SOS Letter to Forest Service re: megaloads and salmon
  30. Jul 22, 2013 - For immediate release: Five myths about freight transportation on the Lower Snake River
  31. Jun 28, 2013 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: Port of Lewiston meeting takes an existential turn
  32. Jun 07, 2013 - LMT Guest Opinion: If you do the math, dams don't add up
  33. May 05, 2013 - Spokesman Review guest opinion: It’s time to assess use of shrinking tax dollars on lower Snake River dams
  34. Apr 23, 2013 - AP: Dredge plan draws opposition
  35. Mar 07, 2013 - Old Arguments, New Realities
  36. Mar 07, 2013 - Lewiston Morning Tribune Editorial: Don't take Linwood Laughy's word for it
  37. Jan 25, 2013 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: Dredging costs rise to top of meeting
  38. Jan 24, 2013 - Rocky Barker Blog: Corps faces a fight over dredging behind Lower Snake dams.
  39. Jan 24, 2013 - Lewiston Morning Tribune Editorial: Judging River Dredging Plan By the Numbers
  40. Jan 23, 2013 - The Sediment Statement and the Lower Snake River Waterway
Save Our wild Salmon is a diverse, nationwide coalition working together to restore wild salmon and steelhead to the rivers, streams and marine waters of the Pacific Northwest for the benefit of our region's ecology, economy and culture.


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