More money for river dredging

WASHINGTON – The Bush administration is doubling the amount of money it is spending this year to deepen 103 miles of the Columbia River, a White House official said Monday.

Christin Baker, a spokeswoman for the federal Office of Management and Budget, said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will spend $30 million in the current budget year for the dredging project, up from $15 million initially approved by Congress.

The money will be spent by Sept. 30 and will allow faster progress, Baker said. The money comes from a belated spending bill approved by Congress last month and signed by President Bush.

Northwest lawmakers hailed the announcement, which was first signaled by Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore. The White House later confirmed his account and said a formal announcement will come later this week.

“It’s very good news,” said Andrew Whelan, a spokesman for Walden. He called the deepening project essential for the economy of Oregon and Washington and said it will keep regional ports competitive with ports in Asia and other areas of the United States.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., also welcomed the announcement, which came as a surprise to most members of the Washington and Oregon delegations. The river splits part of the two states, and lawmakers from both states and both parties have supported the $150 million project, which has been planned for nearly two decades.

“These unexpected extra dollars show that the administration has truly gotten the message that channel deepening is vital to our region’s growth,” Murray said.

But Murray said the Army Corps also should spend money to repair crumbling jetties at the mouth of the Columbia River. Such spending would not only bolster the jetties but also “maintain the economic engine of southwest Washington,” she said.

The dredging project, which began in 2005, is designed to give new, larger oceangoing vessels access to Portland, Ore., and other Columbia River ports, helping them compete for Pacific Rim business. The project will deepen the river channel by 3 feet between Astoria, Ore., and Vancouver, Wash.

Matt Rabe, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers in Portland, which oversees the project, said Monday he had heard there will be an announcement this week but did not know details.

The deepening project is about 40 percent complete, Rabe said, with work expected to be finished in late 2009 or early 2010. About $34 million in federal spending has already been allocated for the project, not including the latest announcement.

Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., called the dredging project “immensely important to keeping Oregon economically competitive. This additional funding is a crucial step to seeing the project completed, giving a much needed boost to Columbia River trade.”

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