ILWACO - The Columbia River channel deepening project has received a $2 million appropriation for "environmental measures," mostly for research and monitoring.

The appropriation - included in the massive omnibus appropriations bill Congress passed Thursday night to fund the federal government for the remainder of the current fiscal year - was requested a year ago by six Oregon and Washington ports sponsoring the deepening project.

"Upon receipt of all approvals, we will use the funds to start first on environmental measures," said Ken O'Hollaren, executive director of the Port of Longview. Quoted in a press release from the pro-deepening Columbia River Channel Coalition, O'Hollaren said the money would "greatly benefit the overall health of the Columbia River estuary."

Neither O'Hollaren nor the Channel Coalition could be reached this morning to elaborate on what specifically those environmental measures might be.

Elisa Dozono, a spokeswoman for the Port of Portland, said the appropriation was contained under the bill's Energy and Water Appropriations Title.

"This was the [sponsoring] ports' request for some initial money to do an initial phase of restoration up front," she said. "It's just mostly going to go for research and monitoring."

U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., said Tuesday morning that the appropriation, which he helped pursue, would go to fund environmental activities in advance of any actual channel deepening work.

"This is not money that will be used to initiate any deepening per se at this point," he said.

Baird also helped secure $630,000 for maintenance dredging of the Baker Bay West Channel in Pacific County. Maintenance dredging at Baker Bay is essential to navigation safety of the channel and economic development at the Port of Ilwaco and in the region. Fisheries at the Port of Ilwaco produce 17,560 tons of commercial fish annually, and the Port's two fish processors provide 63 year round jobs and 190 jobs during the seasonal peak.

Unfortunately, other smaller, shallow-draft ports such as the Port of Chinook still suffer from lack of funding. There were no other specific earmarks for small ports in the this congressional district included in the bill.

The bill was more than 3,000 pages long and included a whopping $397.4 billion in appropriations to fund every federal department except defense. Legislators had 10 hours to look at it, Baird said.

"I voted no on the bill just out of principle," he said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently issued a final document detailing its plan to deepen the Columbia River shipping channel from 40 feet to 43 feet, to benefit maritime trade. The plan includes ecosystem restoration features, such as the Lois Island Embayment project, designed to create inter-tidal marsh habitat for juvenile salmon. Commercial fishers say this would destroy valuable fishing grounds there.

Before the deepening project could go forward, it still has to be approved by Oregon and Washington environmental regulators. Then the Corps would issue a record of decision and request funding for the $134 million project from Congress.

Baird said appropriations bill also contained funding for:

• $1 million to control invasive species, such as Spartina, at Willapa Bay National Wildlife Refuge;

• $750,000 for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to acquire key parcels of land for threatened wildlife adjacent to the refuge that provides secure habitat for various threatened species of wildlife, including migratory birds. Acquisition and restoration of key wildlife habitats.

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