Dredging the Columbia River would allow bigger ships to sail between the Columbia River Estuary and into Portland, says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.


Its $196 million plan would deepen a 103-mile stretch of river by three feet by dredging every day for two years.


According to the Corps' final environmental impact statement, dredging won't cause "significant" environmental problems, and the National Marine Fisheries Service has given the program the go-ahead. However, many scientists, environmentalists, tribes and politicians wonder how the Fisheries Service could support a dredging project in the face of the Northwest's dam debate (HCN, 12/20/99).


"To approve this dredging proposal is brain-dead," says Bill Arthur of the Sierra Club.


"Every other dredging project on the West Coast has timing windows that stop digging when salmon are migrating, but with this project there would be no time for two years that fish would be safe," says the Columbia River Estuary Study Taskforce, a council of local governments spearheading the opposition. "Endangered salmon can get sucked up in the dredge, it's noisy, it increases water pollution, and adds more salinity to the water."


For the Corps to start dredging, it will need approval from the state's Department of Environmental Quality. The DEQ will wrap up its public process on Jan. 20.


* Rebecca Clarren