The Columbia River Channel Improvements Project was a major transportation, economic development, and international trade issue for our region. Much of our region’s economy depends on maritime trade. The Columbia River is the United State's largest wheat export system, with 40 percent of all U.S. wheat exports shipped through our ports. Ocean-going vessels transport an average $16 billion worth of cargo each year. For every $1 invested in the project, the nation receives an economic benefit of $1.66 in return.
More than 40,000 local jobs with an average annual wage of $46,000 are dependent on Columbia River maritime commerce and 59,000 more Northwest jobs are influenced by such activity. Approximately $1.8 billion per year in personal income is generated by maritime activity and over $208 million in state and local taxes are generated each year by Columbia River maritime shipping.
The world’s shipping fleet has changed. Today, over 80 percent of the vessels in transpacific trade are the larger, more fuel-efficient ships that were constrained by the previously authorized depth of 40-feet in the Columbia River navigation channel. In order to better accommodate those vessels calling our ports, the navigation channel needed to be deepened from 40 to 43 feet, which would enable ships to access and serve the businesses, farmers, ports, and communities in our region. If we failed to deepen the channel, we would lose our competitive edge in the world market and suffer direct economic consequences.
The Columbia River Channel Improvements Project evolved from its original plan. According to U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s Final Supplemental Integrated Feasibility Report/Environmental Impact Statement issued in January 2003, new ecosystem restoration features were added, the total cost of the project was reduced over $30 million, the amount of dredged material was reduced from 18.5 million cubic yards (mcy) to 14.5 mcy, five utility line relocations were eliminated, monitoring and adaptive management programs were significantly enhanced, additional three-year environmental studies continued to be conducted on smelt and sturgeon, and additional information was gained on Dungeness crab.
Channel deepening was done in a balanced way that protected our economic and environmental vitality. The project not only mitigated for environmental impacts, but it actually improved river and estuary conditions above and beyond any impacts. Favorable biological opinions were issued by the federal environmental agencies in May 2002, and Oregon and Washington state environmental agencies approved and issued permits for 401 Water Quality Certifications and Coastal Zone Management Consistency in June 2003. Having both federal and state environmental regulatory approvals, this demonstrated that channel deepening could move forward and be performed in an environmentally sound manner.
On January 9, 2004, the Corps issued their Record of Decision (ROD) finalizing the regulatory approval process for the project. The ROD described the Corps’ recommended approved plan, which was in accordance with imposed conditions by state environmental agencies in Oregon and Washington and met economic justification. To review the ROD, please visit the Corps of Engineer's website.
On June 15, 2005, U.S. District
Court Judge Ricardo Martinez ruled in favor of channel deepening.
After 16 years of successfully planning and defending the project, Channel deepening began on June 25, 2005, and concluded in November 2010.