Independent analysis cites huge subsidy for lower Snake barging

A Kooskia, Idaho, man has released an independent analysis showing a huge taxpayer subsidy of $18,000 for each barge shipped on the lower Snake River.

The report, penned by IRU member Linwood Laughy, calls into question the economics of the Corps’ plan to dredge the lower Snake River in order to make barging possible. According to Laughy’s research, the Corps plans to spend $39 million or more over the next 10 years to dredge sediments in the lower Snake River corridor and, in particular, in the reservoir created by Lower Granite Dam.

“With 2.2 million cubic yards of sediment traveling each year to the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers, dredging about 200,000 cubic yards on an annualized basis is a bit like sticking one’s finger in a dike,” Laughy said. “The Army Corps fails to acknowledge the first rule of holes — it’s in a huge financial hole, and its only proposed solution is to keep digging.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its 1,500-page draft environmental study of lower Snake River dredging in December and, this week, extended the comment deadline to March 26.

“This sediment management plan is a big deal for the people of the region, and it’s a big deal for American taxpayers who are being asked to shell out $39 million over 10 years for dredging operations on the lower Snake River,” said IRU Conservation Director Kevin Lewis. “With a well-maintained railroad already in place, this proposed expenditure is excessive and wasteful.”

IRU is examining the study for the impacts dredging could have endangered salmon and steelhead, as well as the extraordinary costs it proposes in order to maintain shipping channels on the lower Snake River.

“In a time of dwindling federal dollars a subsidy of this magnitude isn't practical or defensible, particularly when there are alternative ways to move goods to and from Lewiston, rail in particular,” said IRU Conservation Director Kevin Lewis. “Port business is less than 25 percent of what it was in 2000, and there’s no sign of it increasing. For every barge that passes Lower Granite Dam the American taxpayer is being asked to reach into their pockets for nearly $20,000 in subsidies while the same goods could be efficiently shipped on rail with no subsidy at all.”

For those interested in learning more about the $16 million study, the Corps is hosting an open house tonight, Jan. 24, at Lewis and Clark State College in Lewiston. The 5:30 p.m. meeting will be in the Williams Conference Center on the campus.