Army Corps of Engineers goes with Illinois company to keep Columbia River channel clearPORTLAND - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Thursday awarded an $8,738,500 contract to Illinois-based Great Lake Dredge and Dock Co. to maintain the 103.5-mile-long, 40-foot-deep Columbia River federal navigation channel between the mouth of the river at Warrenton and Vancouver, Wash., as well as the six-mile-long channel across the Columbia River bar. Great Lakes also will deepen by three feet a 13-mile section of the lower river near Astoria this summer. Corps spokesman Matt Rabe said the maintenance work is expected to begin later this month.

This will be the first deepening work under the Columbia River Channel Improvement Project. In 2004, the Corps initiated the construction phase of the project with the start and completion of an ecosystem restoration component of the project. Additional dredging, restoration and mitigation work will take place in the coming months and years.

The contract was awarded following two rounds of bidding. The initial bids for the combined work came in too high for the government to award a contract, so the Corps rejected the bids and repackaged the work, reducing the amount of work required. The second round resulted with bids within the government's acceptable range.

The second-round bids were: Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, $10,580,500; Manson Construction of Seattle, $11,771,500; and Bean Stuyvesant of New Orleans, $16, 322,150. The awarded contract is smaller than the bid because the Corps is delaying its decision to award some of the optional items within the package. Those optional items may be awarded later.

The Columbia River Channel Improvement Project will not benefit the Port of Astoria, which has taken a neutral position on it. The project is widely opposed locally because of fears that it will have a negative impact on the environment and especially on the crab fishery. It is supported by the Port of Portland and the ports of St. Helens in Oregon and the ports of Vancouver, Woodland, Kalama and Longview in Washington.

Rabe said the project is being undertaken to improve navigation in the Columbia River by deepening the navigation channel to accommodate the current fleet of international bulk cargo and container ships. Currently, these ships cannot fill their holds to capacity because of depth limitations caused by the existing 40-foot channel. By deepening the river, ships will be better able to fully load. The Corps estimates that will save shippers $18.8 million annually.