Coalition urges Bush, Congress to ensure U.S. Army Corps of Engineers receives enough start-up moneyA coalition of businesses has urged President Bush and members of Congress to ensure that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has enough money to start dredging the Columbia River shipping channel next year.

The more than 200 businesses say $15 million is needed to start deepening the channel by 3 feet from Portland to Astoria. The House Appropriations Committee approved $3 million Wednesday, and it's unlikely the Senate will provide much more.

Deepening the channel would open the river to the latest models of deep-draft container ships and grain vessels, helping Portland and five downriver ports compete for Pacific Rim business, supporters say.

However, environmentalists are concerned that dredging the river and the proposed disposal of the dredged material could damage salmon and crab habitat.

Following the House vote, the coalition sent a letter to each member of the Northwest's congressional delegation stating its concerns.

"We need a deeper channel to keep shipping Northwest products around the world and strengthening our economy at home," the letter said.

The $150.5 million project would allow deep-draft ships to load more fully, cutting average shipping costs by $1.66 for every $1 of project costs, according to a Corps analysis.

"We've got to have this now, or we're going to be losing market share, we're going to be losing transportation savings, we're going to be losing jobs," said Dave Hunt, executive director of the Columbia River Channel Coalition.

The project ultimately rests with the White House budget office. The office is reviewing the Corps' plan to make sure the project meets environmental standards and passes the cost-benefit test.

Chad Kolton, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, said the office received the plan in late April, and reviews typically last about four months.

Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., said in February that aides to budget chief Joshua Bolten had assured him the project would clear review. A Smith spokesman told The Oregonian Wednesday that the senator continues to be optimistic.

Northwest Environmental Advocates filed suit in March against the National Marine Fisheries Service, claiming that it its approval of the channel deepening project in 2002 was not based on sound science.

Earlier this week, the group amended the suit to include the Corps. They claimed that the Corps failed to consider all of the economic and environmental effects of dredging and the disposal of dredging spoils, such as its impact on jetties and coastal erosion.

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