Lower Snake dredging plan under fire

In official comments submitted today, Idaho Rivers United, regional conservation groups, fishing advocates and north Idaho residents took the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to task for its plans to dredge on the lower Snake River near Lewiston.

“Dredging is bad for salmon, bad for river health and doesn’t make sense economically,” said IRU Conservation Director Kevin Lewis. “The Corps plans to dredge at a cost of $39 million over the next 10 years, and that isn’t financially responsible, particularly in this day and age of dwindling federal budgets.”

In December, the Corps released a 1,500-page draft environmental study proposing to dredge in the reservoir created by Lower Granite Dam, the most upstream of four lower Snake reservoirs. The plan quickly came under fire from local citizens and conservation groups who questioned the document’s underlying economics.

“IRU supports affordable, reliable, modern transportation for farmers in eastern Washington and northern Idaho,” Lewis said. “That includes use and expansion of the existing rail infrastructure, which parallels the lower Snake waterway. Using the waterways for transportation is expensive and outdated.”

In an economic analysis submitted as part of the conservation interests’ official comments, Natural Resource Economics economist Ernie Niemi said the Corps has failed to substantiate its proposed expenditure and actions or to provide a cost-benefit analysis.

“The (draft Environmental Impact Statement) lacks quantitative substance of any kind regarding the Preferred Alternative’s economic costs and benefits; it’s impacts on economic activity, jobs, and incomes in the surrounding region; and the uncertainties and risks that would accompany implementation of the alternative,” Niemi wrote.

Niemi’s analysis also helped to verify numbers produced by a north Idaho IRU member in January. According to Kooskia, Idaho resident Linwood Laughey, the Corps’ proposed $39 million expenditure over a 10-year timeframe translates into an $18,900 subsidy per barge leaving the Port of Lewiston.

“The Army Corps fails to acknowledge the first rule of holes—it’s in a huge financial hole, and it’s only proposed solution is to keep digging,” Laughey said.

Meanwhile, barging on the lower Snake continues a gradual decline. Marine transports 
at the Port of Lewiston are less than 25 percent of what they were in 2000, and there’s no sign of them increasing.

Lewis said IRU is committed to collaboration with farmers and regional businesses to find shared solutions on the Columbia and Snake rivers that are good for business and good for salmon.

“The Corps, unfortunately, is trying to lead the people of the region down a path that doesn’t make sense for taxpayers, for the region’s communities or for salmon,” Lewis said. “We can do better."

Click here to read comments submitted to the Corps by IRU, Niemi and others.