Dredging up debate



Keeping the Port of Portland competitive means dredging the Columbia River so bigger ships can float through, at least according to Port officials and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who want to deepen the river from 40 to 43 feet. They say the extra depth would save the Port from sinking into obscurity, help support 40,000 jobs in the region, and provide $2 of benefits for every $1 taxpayers spend on the project (HCN, 1/17/00: A dredging dilemma).

Hold on a minute, says "Digging Deeper," a series of articles about the dredging project, published by The Oregonian in March. The stories found major flaws in the Corps' cost-benefit analysis. Among other things, the Corps used outdated data, counted empty shipping containers as full, overestimated the amount of grain shipped out on the Columbia, and failed to account for impacts to salmon and crab fisheries. The Oregonian's cost-benefit analysis predicted a benefit of 88 cents for every $1 spent.

The day after the first article ran, the Port sent a three-page letter defending dredging to 700 employees, business leaders, and elected officials. "The Oregonian got it wrong in its analysis of economic benefits," wrote the Port's executive director Bill Wyatt. "Our series is accurate, complete and fair," responds Peter Bhatia, The Oregonian's executive editor. "They had ample opportunity to respond and challenge us (before the series was published), and we bent over backwards to include their comments in the series."

The Army Corps is reviewing its economic analysis and a conclusion is due in June. To read "Digging Deeper," go to www.oregonlive.com/special/port/.

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