After 18 years of planning, the Columbia River Channel Improvement Project received a green light recently from US District Judge Ricardo Martinez. Judge Martinez ruled that the Corps of Engineers and NOAA Fisheries had properly analyzed the Project’s impacts under federal law.
“This is fantastic news for the thousand of companies in our region that depend on the Columbia River to move their products,” said Columbia River Channel Coalition President and Port of Longview Executive Director Ken O’Hollaren. “From the beginning, businesses have recognized how critical channel deepening is to our economy, but the judge’s decision is a ringing recognition of the project’s solid basis in best available science.”
In his ruling, Judge Martinez stated that he agreed with the US Army Corps of Engineers and the sponsor ports that they took the requisite ‘hard look’ at project impacts as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. The Judge also concluded that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) had properly reviewed the project’s impacts to salmon. The ruling came in response to a Northwest Environmental Advocates lawsuit challenging the NMFS approval of the project and the Corps’ Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The plaintiffs had requested that the court set aside the Biological Opinion NMFS used to approve the project and the Corps’ EIS.
“The judge’s decision today will help ensure the Columbia River continues to serve the region’s $15-billion maritime industry,” said Bill Wyatt, Port of Portland executive director. “Those three feet are critical to our ability to attract and retain the container carrier service our region’s businesses depend on to reach their international markets.”
When completed, the additional three feet of depth will allow draft-restricted bulk ships to carry an additional 6,000 tons of grain and container ships to carry hundreds of additional containers, making a Columbia River port call more cost-effective for ocean carriers and Northwest businesses and farmers.