LEWISTON – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is delaying its plan to dredge and deepen the navigation channel at the ports of Lewiston and Clarkston until December 2014 at the earliest.
The agency had hoped to complete its environmental reviews in time to allow dredging this winter, but complex technical and environmental reviews have delayed the project, the Lewiston Tribune reported Friday.
Lewiston is the most inland seaport on the West Coast, and the port area needs occasional dredging because sand and silt build up near the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers. It was last dredged in 2006.
“We just decided, let’s delay the proposed dredging plan for this winter,” said Bruce Henrickson, a spokesman for the Corps of Engineers’ Walla Walla District.
Environmental groups oppose the dredging, and say cargo could be shipped by truck or rail.
The Corps of Engineers has been working on its sediment management plan since 2005 and has spent $16 million coming up with alternatives and studying the environmental effects.
The plan calls for removing about 3,000 cubic yards of sediment from the Port of Lewiston, more than 10,000 cubic yards from the Port of Clarkston and 407,000 cubic yards from the shipping channel. The material will be dumped downstream near Knoxway Canyon and used to create habitat for juvenile salmon and steelhead.
But the plan is controversial and has become a proxy for the long-running fight over the four lower Snake River dams and whether they should be breached to restore runs of wild salmon and steelhead.
Supporters of dredging say it is needed to maintain the shipping channel at a depth of 14 feet to enable barges, which mostly transport wheat to the Port of Portland, to continue to use the river system.
Salmon advocates argue the needs of fish are more important than maintaining the river as a transportation corridor and say dredging will cost nearly $40 million during the next decade.
Dredging is required to occur between Dec. 15 and Feb. 28, when it will do the least harm to salmon and steelhead.