Corps OKs dredging of area ports

By ELAINE WILLIAMS of the Tribune

Two area ports are gearing up for dredging after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved a plan to remove sediment from a number of locations around the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley.

Dredging is one of the tools identified in the programmatic sediment management plan that could be used to maintain the shipping channel along the lower Snake River that’s 14 feet deep and 250 feet wide.

Many anticipate the plan will be challenged in court by environmental groups. As of Monday, Idaho Rivers United in Boise was still waiting for more information before responding. The corps didn’t expect to have all the documents surrounding its decision released until today.

In the absence of legal action, the corps will dredge in a window that runs from Dec. 15 to Feb. 28, when salmon are less likely to be in the river. The corps awarded a contract for the $6.74 million project to American Construction Co. of Tacoma.

“We looked at indicators of continued use of inland navigation and we believe that continued maintenance is justified,” said corps spokesman Bruce Henrickson in Walla Walla.

The project will remove 400,000 cubic yards of material from the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers, the Port of Lewiston, the Port of Clarkston and the navigation lock approach at Ice Harbor dam near Pasco.

About 1,900 cubic yards will be dredged from two berths at the Lewis-Clark Terminal at the Port of Lewiston at an estimated cost of $37,000. Lewiston Port Manager David Doeringsfeld said that will be paid by the terminal, which loads grain onto barges.

Another 2,600 cubic yards will be taken from the water near a container dock just downstream at a cost of about $48,000 to be paid by the port, Doeringsfeld said.

The dredging at the Port of Clarkston will increase water depths in four locations – a loading area by Lewis-Clark Terminal grain storage facilities, and separate docks for a mothballed crane, cruise boats and private recreational boats. The work is expected to involve 14,000 cubic yards and cost close to $200,000.

The dredging project is the only initiative in the plan that has been approved by the corps and has gone through environmental review, Henrickson said.

Other possibilities that could be involved in the long term include adding dikes, raising the Lewiston levees to manage flood risk and reconfiguring or relocating ports, according to the plan.

“Can a port be moved?” Henrickson said. “That’s not a cheap date, but we looked at that option. It’s in the tool box of tools we could use to manage sediment.”

One option that is not discussed at length in the plan is breaching of the four lower Snake River dams. Henrickson said the corps figures shippers save about $25 million per year by barging instead of using other forms of transportation.

Maintaining the channel costs anywhere from $1 million to $5 million annually, Henrickson said, plus the cost of dredging.

Kevin Lewis, the conservation director for Idaho Rivers United, said he doesn’t believe the corps can support the $25 million figure. He said the corps is also limiting the discussion by misinterpreting its authorization to maintain the shipping channel.

“They’re authorized to maintain a shipping channel,” Lewis said. “When they’re authorized, they can maintain or not. It’s at their discretion. They’re operating under this assumption (that) they’re required to do something and we don’t believe they are.”

Williams may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2261.