Plans to dredge the Columbia River are one
step closer to fruition, thanks to the National Marine Fisheries
Service, which has changed its biological opinion for the third
time since 1999.
In late May, NMFS, in charge of
endangered salmon recovery, found that the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers' proposal to dredge 106.5 miles of the Columbia River's
shipping channel an additional three feet deeper won't hurt wild
salmon (HCN, 5/13/02: Dredging up debate) (HCN, 1/17/00: A dredging
dilemma). The finding reversed an earlier NMFS stance, which itself
was the product of several changes of mind.
have a lot more certainty now, based on additional studies," says
Michael Tehan at the NMFS Oregon branch. "The project didn't raise
any red flags."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service has also signed off on the plan, saying that dredging will
not occur in areas critical to other endangered
While the agencies say their opinions
are the result of more data, better science and a better management
process, environmentalists say this is politics at its
"The whole thing is really bogus," says
Nina Bell, executive director of Northwest Environmental Advocates.
"All the agencies decided they'd work together to put the project
through all the necessary hurdles. Then it became even more of a
political situation." The group is reviewing the current plan and
considering legal action.