Organizations looking for funding for environmental restoration and outreach projects along the lower Columbia River and the coast to the north and south of the river's mouth have a new funding program designed specifically for them.

The Columbia River Estuarine Coastal Fund, established by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will distribute $1.3 million in grants, money that came from Washington and Oregon court settlements with shipping companies charged with dumping oil overboard.

"I think this is a great opportunity to make the companies doing the illegal dumping pay for the cost of their actions," said Miel Corbett, assistant state supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The foundation put out a request for preproposals Wednesday to cities, counties, tribes, nonprofits, schools, agencies or other organizations with ideas for how to improve the river or coastal environment, from the Bonneville Dam to the river's mouth and from Tillamook Bay to Willapa Bay.

"There are several different areas we're looking for projects in," said Jennifer Taylor, a project administer with the foundation. "We're looking for projects that will help give some outreach so that people know what happened, and also for on-the-ground restoration projects."

The request for preproposals also states that the foundation is interested in projects that benefit the National Wildlife Refuge System, proposals from communities that are looking for sustainable solutions to natural resource issues, and applied research designed to improve natural resources management.

"We're looking for projects that will both benefit the ecosystems and projects that will help benefit communities that rely on those ecosystems," said Corbett. She added that this first request for preproposals was sent to a broad base of organizations in order to get a sense of the range of needs of the area, and try to identify gaps that could benefit from the fund's grants.

"We know about it and we'll be applying for funds," said Matthew Van Ess, director of the Columbia River Estuary Study Taskforce. Todd Cullison, watershed coordinator with CREST, noted that money designated specifically for this area could be easier to get than other, more generalized grants.

Once the preproposals are in, a technical review committee with representatives from the Oregon and Washington Departments of Fish and Wildlife, nonprofits and other organizations will select some of the projects and ask the submitting groups to write up a full proposal. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will make the final selections for the distribution of grants. The grants will be administered by the foundation, which was created by Congress in 1984 to help administer funds for different federal agencies.

The foundation isn't expecting to distribute all of the $1.3 million in the first round of projects, said Taylor, but will probably have another set of proposal requests next year. In addition, the fund could grow if more companies are caught polluting and the courts direct more money its way.

The foundation has operated 98 grant-giving funds across the country, said Taylor, but this is the first in the Pacific Northwest.

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