Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Federal judge rules to allow dredging on lower Snake River

Associated Press

LEWISTON – A federal judge has ruled that dredging can start next week on the lower Snake River to aid barge traffic to and from Lewiston.

The Lewiston Tribune reported that U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle on Monday rejected a request by environmental groups and the Nez Perce Tribe to halt the dredging until their lawsuit can be heard.

The ruling means the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can move ahead with a $6.7 million dredging project in the river leading to the farthest inland seaport on the West Coast. Dredging can begin as soon as Monday and must be finished by March 1 to avoid harming salmon and steelhead.

The Army Corps contends that dredging behind Lower Granite Dam is needed to maintain the corridor for barges between Pasco and Lewiston. Opponents contend barge traffic on the lower Snake River is declining and doesn’t justify the dredging. They also said the dredging would hurt salmon, steelhead and Pacific lamprey.

David Doeringsfeld, manager of the Port of Lewiston, said dredging will deepen the channel and allow barges to be fully loaded. The channel is so shallow, he said, that barges deliberately aren’t being filled to capacity, a practice called light-loading, and cruise boats have had to stop at the Port of Clarkston’s industrial dock.

“Next year we won’t be light-loading barges, and more important is the safety issue,” Doeringsfeld said. “There have been six (barge) groundings in the last two years. You have experienced tug captains unable to safely navigate the channel. This will correct that problem.”

The lawsuit was filed in November by Earthjustice on behalf of environmental groups.

“Obviously we are disappointed the corps is going to waste more taxpayer dollars supporting a barging system that provides very few benefits to society,” said Kevin Lewis of Idaho Rivers United. “It doesn’t diminish the strength of our case, and we expect to prevail.”

Four dams on the Lower Snake River between Lewiston and Pasco allow for barges that carry fuel, timber, agricultural products and other cargo.

The lawsuit contends the corps violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act with its plan to remove about 400,000 cubic yards of sediment from the navigation channel. The lawsuit also says the corps failed to consider whether the work was economically justifiable.

The Army Corps said plans call for removing the 400,000 cubic yards of sediment and putting it farther downstream in deeper areas where it can create rearing and resting habitat for young salmon and steelhead.