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COLUMBIA RIVER ESTUARY - What is an 8 million-cubic-yard dumpsite for dredge spoils?

A restoration site, according to the most recent Environmental Impact Statement for the Army Corps of Engineers' Columbia Deepening Project.

Of the four major restoration proposals the Corps has proposed in the new EIS, three would also be dredged material disposal sites - leaving many the project's critics unsatisfied.

"This idea of creating new disposal sites and labeling them as restoration is really a concern." said Matthew Van Ess, Columbia River Estuary Study Taskforce director. "It's never been done before and we don't know how it's going to work."

Causing further concern, Van Ess said some of the Corps' proposals - including its largest salmon restoration project - come with the caveat that they will only be completed if they continue to suit the Corps' needs.

"These are promises of restoration," Van Ess said. "The corps doesn't have to do any of this - they are just nice things it is doing out of the kindness of its heart."

Many of the restoration projects the Corps has proposed would use enormous amounts of dredge spoils - roughly half the deepening project's waste will be dumped as part of the Corps Lois Island restoration project. Van Ess said the Corps is re-designating dumpsites critical to deepening the channel as restoration, hoping to hide its disposal sites while improving the project's image.

Regardless of its motivations, Corps project manager Laura Hicks said dumpsite/restoration-proposal costs are included in the project's cost-benefit analysis. Restoration that does not use dredge spoils, however, is not part of the cost-benefit projection. Miller-Pillar Island - $2,767,000 estimated cost - 234 acres affected

By driving and filling a series of pile dikes - rows of pilings driven perpendicular to a river, channelizing and slowing it - the Corps plans to create more shallow-water salmon habitat between Miller and Pillar Islands in the Columbia estuary. Though the plan is proposed as part of the deepening project, it would house spoils from maintenance dredging.

While the plan was put forward in an earlier proposal, McDonough said the Corps reconsidered it after questions regarding the proposal's benefit to salmon arose.

"Now they're saying this shallow water will actually benefit salmon, where as in the previous EIS they were saying the shallow water would negatively impact salmon," she said.

Shallow water, McDonough said, is a boon to predatory birds, as it makes salmon and other fish easy prey for them. She said the pile dikes also would interfere with gillnet fisheries in the area.

Van Ess said the Millar-Pillar site is more of the same from the Corps. He said that - instead of creating new dumpsites - the Corps should be looking at other beneficial uses for dredge spoils.

"We have ways to use this dredge material," Van Ess said. "We have to find other things to do with it besides dumping it in the water or on an island or in the ocean or in the estuary where it impacts the environment."

Spoils could be removed from the river and used to feed beaches starved for sand because of changes to the Columbia's flow pattern, as they have been on southwest Washington's Benson Beach.

"This is an impacted system here," Van Ess said. "If we want sand on the beach, we need to put it there." Shillapoo Lake/Bachelor Slough - $7,348,000 estimated cost - 609-978 acres affected - 132,000 cubic yards removed

In a holdover from the previous Environmental Impact Statement, the Corps plans to use dredge spoils from Bachelor Slough to create Shillapoo Lake on Bachelor Island near Portland, Ore. While the new lake would serve as habitat for waterfowl, it would do little for salmon or other fish directly affected by the deepening project.

"This is not a fish-restoration project, it's a duck-restoration project," Van Ess said. "It's basically a duck pond."

Van Ess said the Corps decisions regarding Bachelor Slough - chiefly its putting boat-traffic control ahead of fish restoration - calls its intentions into question. "They don't want to dredge too much into Bachelor Island because they don't want boats to go in there," he said. "I guess to me, it's kind of laughable; it's not about what is most important to fish restoration."

The projects size depends on Washington state Fish and Wildlife department's ability to acquire roughly 350 acres of private land.

In addition to four large-scale projects, the Corps plans to replace a number of tide gates in the estuary, participate in an invasive weed-control program and fund research on the impacts of this and other Corps projects on the Columbia River.

The Corps meeting schedule is available at www.nwp.usace.army.mil/issues/crcip/schedule.htm   

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