Report calls out welfare barging on lower Snake River

Barging on the Lower Snake River is the result of a highly subsidized system of dams and ports. The Port of Lewiston, pictured, is a part of the system. (Photo by Port of Lewiston)

In a footnoted seven-page white paper titled “The Five Most Blatant Myths about Freight Transportation on the Lower Snake River,” IRU member Linwood Laughy takes on common fallacies perpetuated by the boosters of lower Snake River navigation.

Laughy, a resident of Kooskia, has been crunching numbers on the Army Corps of Engineers’ draft proposal to dredge the lower Snake River. What he’s discovered is a highly subsidized commercial navigation channel that doesn’t make sense for the region’s salmon or economy.

“Those who benefit most from government subsidies for commercial navigation on the lower Snake River have plied the public for years with untrue claims that barging is more economical, more fuel efficient, and less polluting than shipping freight by truck or rail,” Laughy writes. “They are perpetuating myths — otherwise known as cookin’ the books and blowin’ smoke — and taxpayers are footing the bill.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to release a final environmental study late this summer or early fall detailing plans to dredge reservoirs on the lower Snake River near Lewiston.

“The extensive analysis by Mr. Laughy clearly shows that barging is an outdated form of moving goods to market, and in fact is a liability for taxpayers,” said IRU Conservation Director Kevin Lewis.

In official comments submitted last winter, Idaho Rivers United, regional conservation groups, fishing advocates and north Idaho residents took the Corps to task for its draft plans, published for review in December 2012. Lewis said that if the final plan resembles the draft, there seems little chance that it could withstand a legal challenge.

“Dredging is bad for salmon, bad for river health and doesn’t make sense economically,” Lewis said. “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.”

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.

  • Click here to read Laughy’s report: The Five Most Blatant Myths about Freight Transportation on the Lower Snake River.