Leaders struggle to find a home for 7 million cubic yards of dredged sand every yearForget the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' plan to deepen the Columbia River shipping channel by three feet, because that project would only require the disposal of 14.5 million cubic yards of dredged sand.

Instead, try to come up with a place for the 7 million cubic yards dredged from the Columbia River Estuary alone every year.

That's the task set before a group of representatives from government, fishing, environmental and development interests, which began meeting earlier this year as the Lower Columbia Solutions Group.

Thursday night, about 40 people gathered at the Port of Astoria offices to hear a presentation from the solutions group and participate in a conversation on alternative dredge material disposal sites, hosted by the Port and the Columbia River Estuary Study Taskforce.

LORI ASSA - The Daily Astorian

Dredged materials are pumped out of a pipeline as a bulldozer helps move the growing mound of sand at Bradwood this August."We have a math problem," said CREST Director Matt Van Ess. The channel has to be dredged to maintain its current depth, but the estuary is running out of places to put the sand. "This is all of our concern."

Some of the dredged material disposal sites endorsed by the solutions group:

• Bradwood: Many point to this former mill town across the channel from Puget Island as the ideal beneficial use site. This summer, after a great deal of inter-agency cooperation and paperwork, just under 300,000 cubic yards of sand was pumped on land by the Port of Portland's dredge Oregon. Land owner Ken Leahy recently loaded eight railcars full of sand for a test run to Hillsboro, where he intends to sell it for use in construction. Leahy noted how slim the profit margins are for selling dredged sand. The cost for shipping sand by rail is paid by time, not by mileage, he said. If the train carrying his sand to market went 10 mph instead of 25 mph, the shipping costs would be too high to make it financially viable.

• Benson Beach: Also heralded as a beneficial use success, this project saw 40,000 cubic yards of sand pumped over the North Jetty to nourish the gaunt beach. The solutions group wants to expand the project as a counter to beach erosion and an outlet for some of the 5 million cubic yards dredged from six miles of the channel in the Columbia River's mouth annually.

• Ross Island: A spent gravel quarry in Portland is being reclaimed and is in need of fill material. There are other sites like it up and down the Columbia River, Van Ess said.

• Klickitat County: The solutions group wants to explore opportunities in this Washington county for cleaning, reselling and transporting dredge materials to other areas using excess rail capacity.

• Rice Island: This 228 acre island about 3 miles northeast of Tongue Point has received nearly 20 million cubic yards of dredged sand since 1963. Van Ess said he wants to see it "recycled" as a dredge disposal site, meaning sand currently on the island would be sold and replaced by new dredged material.

Davis Moriuchi, deputy district engineer for Project Management in the Corps' Portland District, said the quantity of sand to be removed from the river each year is the challenge. The projects suggested are "more like singles ... We should be going for some home runs."

The solutions group has to find markets for the huge volume of sand and contend with the high cost of transporting it. A cubic yard of sand weighs 2,700 pounds and sells for an average of $3.

Some possible large-volume outlets floated Thursday include the San Francisco airport, which needs 20 million cubic yards of fill to extend its runways.

Closer to home, land owner John Dean, who with his father owns 80 acres of land in the Youngs Bay area, said there are many property owners in that area who are looking for large volumes of fill to raise their land above the flood plain - a requirement for new development.

Port Executive Director Peter Gearin has also advocated for the use of dredged materials for this type of beneficial use. He acknowledged that environmental restrictions stand in the way of the kind of large-scale land creation that made space for the ports of Portland, Vancouver, Longview, Wash., and Astoria.

Navigating through the government bureaucracy at the local, state and federal level, with its associated maze of laws and regulations pertaining to work in the Columbia River, is another obstacle facing those who would like to implement large-scale beneficial use projects swiftly.

The still-unknown costs of many of these projects are expected to be higher than the standard disposal techniques employed by the Corps, but many object to the way the Corps calculates its costs.

"The bottom line can't be counted as the most inexpensive way to move sand around any longer," said Port Commissioner Larry Pfund.

Dale Beasley, president of the Columbia River Crab Fishermen's Association, has repeatedly decried the Corps' dredge materials disposal practices for destroying crab habitat and imperiling small boat navigation around the mouth of the Columbia River.

Beasley, who wasn't at the meeting, said earlier that beneficial use projects require hard work to identify and implement, but they're important for finding a balance between dredging and protecting the crab fishing industry.

"All these things are options for them so that they have the opportunity to get rid of all the sand that they want to get rid of and not hurt our industry."