The federal agency in charge of maintaining navigation for cargo ships on the Columbia and Snake rivers will receive increased funding in 2019 for key infrastructure improvements, including major rehabilitation of three jetties at the mouth of the Columbia River.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its latest work plan and budget in November for fiscal year 2019, earmarking $28 million for the jetties as well as $64 million for maintenance dredging, pile dikes and other projects on the Columbia and Lower Willamette rivers below Portland and Vancouver, Wash.
The $28 million for jetty repairs is an increase over funding levels of $11 million in fiscal year 2018, and $21.9 million in fiscal year 2017. Operations and maintenance on the Columbia and Lower Willamette rivers also got a boost over $53.2 million in fiscal year 2018, and $42.8 million in fiscal year 2017.
The Corps’ budget drew support from the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, a nonprofit trade organization that represents ports, businesses and agricultural groups in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Heather Stebbings, government relations director for the PNWA, emphasized the importance of the river system to the region’s farmers, who depend on water transportation to move and sell their products overseas.
“Our projects out here did pretty well,” Stebbings said. “We definitely have a lot of good news.”
It all starts and ends at the jetties, which were built between 1885 and 1939 and serve as the gateway to and from the Pacific Ocean. Together, the North Jetty, South Jetty and “Jetty A” protect ships entering and leaving the estuary, ensuring safe passage.
Over the years, storms packing up to 30-foot ocean waves have regularly battered the jetties and receded the sand spits on which they are built. If the structures are breached, it could risk shutting down all commercial navigation inland.
“That’s what we’re trying to avoid,” said Kristin Meira, PNWA executive director. “All the good work inland is for naught if we can’t keep the entrance to the system open.”
In 2012, the Corps completed its Major Rehabilitation Report for the jetties, estimating the total cost of repairs at $240 million. Construction on Jetty A was finished in 2017, while the timeline for completion on the North Jetty is 2020, and 2023 on the South Jetty.
The PNWA has also lobbied for funding to maintain dredging the 110-mile Columbia River shipping channel at a depth of 43 feet needed to fully load ocean vessels. The channel dredging project was completed in 2010, and has already attracted more than $1 billion in business investments, according to the organization, including a $230 million export grain terminal in Longview, Wash. — the first new grain facility built in North America in 25 years.
The Columbia River is the third largest grain export gateway in the world. Glen Squires, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission, said most of the wheat grown in the Pacific Northwest is exported, including 60 percent from Idaho, 90 percent from Washington and roughly 85-90 percent from Oregon.
Squires described the Columbia River as a “national highway of commerce,” and said the industry is appreciative of funding from Washington, D.C., to keep the system in shape.
“The jetties are critical,” Squires said. “the ships would have a hard time if one of those failed. It’s a big issue.”