Environmental group wants Washington to delay approval for project until controversy goes to courtAn environmental group challenging Washington's approval of the Columbia River deepening plan requested an order delaying the effect of that approval until after the issue is hashed out in court.

The Columbia River Alliance for Nurturing the Environment (CRANE) asked the Washington Pollution Control Hearings Board last week to temporarily block the Washington Department of Ecology's decision granting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers two critical approvals. The ecology department found that the Corps' plan to deepen the shipping channel by three feet was in compliance with the Washington Coastal Zone Management Plan and the state's water quality standards.

With these approvals and a similar go-ahead from Oregon in hand, the Corps plans to make a final decision on whether to proceed with the project - a "record of decision" - this month. The deepening project is meant to aid the regional economy by enabling deeper-draft vessels to call on Columbia River ports.

If the Corps issues a record of decision, CRANE's only recourse for opposing the project would be in federal court. The environmental group asserts that this would threaten a "meaningful review" of the ecology department's approvals at the state level.

CRANE finds the ecology department's approvals "seriously flawed."

For more than a decade, the department has recognized that dredging "is causing dramatic and potentially irreversible changes to the supply and location of sediment at the mouth of the Columbia River" which are "linked to serious coastal erosion problems," according to a motion filed by the environmental group.

However, the ecology department's approvals "allow the Corps to continue destructive dredging practices without acknowledging a growing environmental and economic catastrophe, and without requiring practicable changes in the Corps' dredging and disposal methods," the motion reads.

CRANE filed its appeals before the pollution control hearings board July 23. They're expected to be heard next year.

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