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Restoring the Lower Snake River

blog 120131 Port of Lewiston 3by Pat Ford, Executive Director and Sam Mace, Inland Northwest Director

A recent article in the Lewiston Tribune reveals that the waterway component of the Port of Lewiston – that part which relies on the lower Snake River dams – is in a decline that will be difficult to reverse. Waterway shipping of staple farm products and other goods is declining. This is mainly (but not totally) because the Port of Tacoma – to which products must be trucked or railed – is increasingly preferred by ocean shippers and customers to the Port of Portland, due to differences in the ease and cost of big boats getting to each.

This helps to explain the intensity with which the Port of Lewiston pursued Exxon’s tar sands mega-loads, despite the harm done to many of its neighbors upriver along Highway 12. The work of tribes, cities, businesses, and conservationists to stop those shipments appears to have paid off, however. Exxon has apparently taken the lower Snake waterway out of its plans, which is a good thing for Idaho and Montana, but a hard blow to the Port’s search for new waterway business.

The waterway’s other main problem looking forward is that maintenance and repair of the aging navigation facilities on the lower Snake, in a time of Congressional austerity, doesn’t make the cut in the Army Corps of Engineers’ numerical rating test that identifies priority projects. The two problems are related: declining use further hurts the rating.

But there is a further aspect that we who support removing the lower Snake dams see clearly. The lower Snake waterway and the Port of Lewiston are not identical. The Port also has trucking and rail functions, and those are stable or growing. We are told more of the Port’s business activity and employment now occurs in these two functions than in the waterway.

The Port of Lewiston and the people it serves and benefits can have a healthy future without the lower Snake waterway. Save Our wild Salmon supports that better future for the Port, and effective, affordable farm-to-market transportation for growers in eastern Washington and north-central Idaho. The lower Snake waterway is not essential to either, as real-world economics are confirming.

(There is further information about the Port and waterway on Bert Bowler’s salmon website: Click on “transportation” in the left menu.)

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