Gov. Mike Lowry and members of the congressional delegation joined the fight Wednesday to open the Columbia River to barge traffic and replenish heating oil and gasoline supplies in the Inland Northwest.
Ice and flooding on the Columbia - and now scheduled repairs of the river locks and dams - have blocked shipments from tankers off the Oregon coast.
The fuel usually is barged to depots in Pasco and then piped to Spokane, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers closed locks on the Columbia River dams between Portland and Pasco on Wednesday for two weeks of maintenance.
The Pasco depot is short several million gallons of gas and heating oil. Fuel is being rushed by truck and train to Eastern Washington and North Idaho to meet demand, distributors said.
In a letter to Maj. Gen. Russell Fuhrman of the Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Reps. George Nethercutt, R-Spokane; Doc Hastings, R-Kennewick; and Linda Smith, R-Lacey, urged maintenance work be delayed five days so the depot can be resupplied.
“We want be sure that every available option to restock our fuel-oil supplies has been explored and a crisis is avoided,” the members of Congress wrote.
Lowry said he asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to avert a potential crisis by ordering the corps to resume barge traffic.
Such a move appears unlikely. FEMA spokeswoman Pam Johnson said Wednesday there is no evidence of a serious fuel shortage looming in the region.
Johnson said her agency will consider suspending the maintenance project if the state Department of Transportation, which is reviewing the situation, recommends that action.
Meanwhile, oil and gas companies began hauling fuel to Spokane by truck and rail.
“There has been excessive demand this morning - everybody wanted to top off their tanks,” said Bob Osmundson, spokesman for Chevron Corp.
Osmundson said there is no need for panic because Chevron has acquired enough fuel from sources around the Western United States to keep gas pumps flowing in Spokane.
On Tuesday, Osmundson said Chevron had run out of heating oil in the Spokane area.
On Wednesday, Chevron began shipping 30,000 barrels of gasoline and 5,000 barrels of heating oil to the area.
Spokane drivers should be aware there will be considerably more truck traffic in the area until barge traffic resumes, Osmundson said.
“We are thankful the weather is nice and warm so there is not high demand for heating oil,” he said. “Our expectation is that we will have adequate product available for our customers.”
The corps said it must perform its lock-and-dam work without delay in order to comply with the federal Endangered Species Act.
The corps is installing screens on dam turbines so the blades won’t kill fingerling salmon. The deadline for installing the screens is March 1, officials said.
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