Getting to the bottom of the issue

Posted: Monday, December 2, 2013 12:00 am

By ELAINE WILLIAMS of the Tribune

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is asking the public how it feels about ports in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley dredging their berths.

Port backers know where they stand on the issue – excess sediment needs to be removed as soon as possible, they say.

But before they get their way, the work will be subject to a public comment period that ends Dec. 18. (See related information, page 3A.) Waiting for the outcome of that process isn’t the only hurdle they face.

The ports are responsible for the costs of their dredging, but always piggyback with dredging the corps does to maintain a shipping channel that’s 14 feet deep and 250 feet wide between Portland and Lewiston.

“It’s not financially feasible to do it any other way,” said Port of Lewiston Manager David Doeringsfeld. “The mobilization cost for bringing dredging equipment up here would make it unfeasible for the small dredging volume we have.”

Together the ports of Lewiston and Clarkston anticipate needing about 20,000 cubic yards of sediment removed. That compares with as many as 490,000 cubic yards being taking out of the shipping channel, mostly near the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers.

Clarkston’s piece, 14,000 cubic yards, would take three, eight-hour shifts, said Port of Clarkston Manager Wanda Keefer.

But just because the scope of the work for the ports is relatively small, doesn’t mean Keefer and Doeringsfeld will get their way. Environmentalists have already succeeded in delaying the corps’ larger piece by at least one year.

The earliest dredging could happen now is from Dec. 15, 2014, through March 1, 2015. That schedule is contingent upon the outcome of an environmental impact statement on a sediment management plan the corps expects to finish in the spring, which may face a legal challenge.

The time dredging can happen each year is limited to a window that runs the same dates each year, said Bruce Henrickson, a spokesman for the corps in Walla Walla. “That’s when the fish are least active.”

The postponement is hurting commerce, said Keefer and Doeringsfeld.

The last time the corps dredged was in the winter of 2005-06 and typically such work needs to happen once every three to five years, Henrickson said.

Crews at the Lewis-Clark Terminal started noticing issues as early as 2009 and have to take extra time as they fill barges at the Port of Lewiston to make sure they keep the cargo spread evenly, said terminal Manager Arvid Lyons.

“We check the river level to see how much water is there,” Lyons said. “A couple inches or feet can make a whole lot of difference in some instances.”

The problem is even greater at the Lewis-Clark Terminal’s Clarkston location, where crews can only partially fill barges, Lyons said. “We have to bring it to Lewiston to top it off.”

The water surrounding Clarkston’s cruise boat dock near the Quality Inn is so shallow it can’t accommodate the largest tourist vessels, Keefer said.

Instead they use the less picturesque industrial dock that’s farther away from retailers like Walmart and Albertsons. The industrial dock has no regular customers, but that doesn’t mean the port shouldn’t preserve the infrastructure, Keefer said. “We are actively trying to promote it.”

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

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is accepting comments by email and mail about dredging at the Port of Lewiston and the Port of Clarkston. All comments must include the person’s name, address and telephone number. The deadline is Dec. 18.

Comments about the Port of Lewiston go to:

[email protected] or
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Regulatory Division
Attn: James Joyner
900 N. Skyline Drive, Suite A
Idaho Falls, ID 83402

Reference number is NWW-2013-00519 (Must appear in letters and subject line of emails along with the words Port of Lewiston.)

Comments about the Port of Clarkston go to:

[email protected] or
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Regulatory Branch
Attn: Tim Erkel
P.O. Box 3755
Seattle, WA 98124-3755

Reference number is NWS-2013-00916 (Must appear in letters and subject lines of emails along with the words Port of Clarkston.)