Work on a long-delayed project to deepen the Columbia River by 3 feet will begin next spring, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said yesterday. The announcement comes one day after...

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WASHINGTON — Work on a long-delayed project to deepen the Columbia River by 3 feet will begin next spring, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said yesterday.

The announcement comes one day after President Bush signed a new federal budget that allocates $9 million for the project, which has been planned for 15 years.

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The money is short of the $15 million Bush had promised during an August campaign visit to Oregon but is enough — combined with money from Oregon and Washington — to begin dredging to the new depth of 43 feet, said Matt Rabe, a spokesman for the corps in Portland.

The Columbia dredging project, which would deepen a 103-mile shipping channel from Portland to the Pacific Ocean, has been contentious for years. Advocates say deepening the navigation channel will allow larger, more efficient ships to load Northwest exports. It also will help lower shipping costs for wheat and barley farmers and others who use the river.

Environmentalists counter that dredging could damage habitat for endangered fish and could erode beaches.

Lawmakers from both parties in Washington and Oregon support the project. Several said they were disappointed that the budget approved last month did not include the full $15 million.

Deepening will take place while the corps performs routine maintenance on the navigation channel, thus providing savings for the work, Rabe said.

Sand dredged to deepen the river will be placed at approved ocean and upland disposal sites, and at in-water locations, he said.