President Proposes to Deepen Columbia River Channel

Monday, August 16, 2004
President George W. Bush recently delivered remarks on the Columbia River Channel Deepening Project in Portland, Ore., announcing a $15 million budget amendment for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin construction on the project.

President George W. Bush said he will propose to add $15 million to the federal budget to fund deepening of the Columbia River navigation channel from the current 40 ft. depth to 43 ft.. This project, if approved, would allow ships to load larger grain cargoes for export. Following are excerpted comments from his speech, given August 13, 2004.

Today we're going to take an important new step to enhance the vitality of this river, and thereby expand opportunities for the people of the Pacific Northwest. Today I'm announcing that we'll soon begin deepening 104 miles of the Columbia River Channel from the mouth of the river on the Pacific to Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington.

By deepening the channel of this river from 40 to 43 feet, we will create new export opportunities at Columbia River ports, we'll help our farmers and ranchers, we'll help our manufacturers remain competitive, we'll protect and restore jobs and we'll help conserve and restore the river ecosystem. This is a vital project. I'm submitting a $15 million budget amendment to fund the beginning stages of the Columbia River Deepening Project. What I'm telling you is we're committed to keeping the Columbia River open for navigation and trade, and we're committed to keeping America's great ports open for business.

Ever since President Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clarke on an expedition to the West, the federal government has recognized the importance of the Columbia River. This is one of America's vital waterways. It is a key artery of commerce for the Pacific Northwest. I say, key artery of commerce -- that means it's a key for jobs.

Last year, more than $15 billion worth of cargo traveled through the Columbia River ports, including more wheat than America shipped on any other river. In all, more than 1,000 businesses, some 40,000 good-paying Pacific Northwest jobs depend on Columbia River shipping.

Columbia River ports have become some of the busiest on the West Coast, but in recent years, a problem has started to emerge.

In 1970, the average cargo ship's draft was 25 to 30 feet. Today, it's from 41 to 45 feet. Yet the depth of this river behind me has stayed the same, at 40 feet. That's the problem: It's not deep enough to handle the new ships. And so some shippers are now diverting ocean traffic away from Portland and toward other ports. Because this river is too shallow, the port of Portland is at a competitive disadvantage.

With fewer ships coming into the Columbia River ports, farmers and growers are forced to pay higher transportation costs. That will affect our farm economy. And the solution is clear: if you want more vibrant trade, if you want more navigatable rivers, if you want busier ports, we need to deepen this channel. We need to make it deeper. And so that's what we're going to do. The engineering work is already underway, and they'll start moving mud next year.

The Army Corps of Engineer will carry out their work under strict environmental guidelines and monitoring. In fact, this project includes restoration and conservation measures that go beyond the requirements of the law. We're installing new technology in the lower Columbia River to help salmon and steelhead pass through the tide gates. We'll restore and protect wildlife habitats in tidal marshes, swamps, and other wetlands. We're seeking out good uses for the sand dredge from the bottom of the river. All of these efforts will help us meet a great goal, to leave the Columbia River ecosystem in better shape than we found it. I'm confident we can achieve that goal.

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