WASHINGTON — The Obama administration will spend $26.6 million in economic stimulus money to complete a project to deepen 103 miles of the Columbia River.
The money will help the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers complete the dredging next year, five years after work began.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said money for the Columbia deepening was not included in the administration’s original list of stimulus projects. That changed after Murray spoke with top administration officials about its importance.
More than 40,000 jobs in the region that depend on maritime commerce, she said. Murray also cited the Columbia’s huge overall economic impact on the Northwest.
“After years and years of work, we are now on the verge of ensuring the Columbia River remains the economic engine of the Northwest,” she said. “A deeper channel will enable us to accommodate the modern fleet of larger ships which will help save jobs and keep our state’s goods moving.”
The federal government has already spent $113 million on the dredging project, which is deepening the Columbia shipping channel from 40 feet to 43 feet. The new money will be used for blasting to remove basalt rock on a one-mile stretch of river near St. Helens, Ore. The work is the final link in a project that has been on the planning books for nearly two decades.
Kristin Meira, government relations director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, said deepening the Columbia will enable ports in both Washington and Oregon to compete in a global market. The project is especially important for grain carriers, which will be able to be fully loaded when the work is done, she said.
Shippers, growers, ports and municipalities in both states, as well as lawmakers from both parties, strongly support the work, she said.
Project manager Laura Hicks said the stimulus funding will allow the Corps of Engineers to complete the dredging project months sooner than expected. About 85 percent of the 103-mile project has been completed, she said.