Lower Columbia River Channel Maintenance Plan
The Lower Columbia River Federal Navigation Channel is the 600-foot-wide, 43-foot-deep, 106-mile-long channel that runs through the Columbia River from its mouth near Astoria, Oregon, to Vancouver, Washington. This federally maintained, deep-draft shipping channel is used by commercial vessels to move commodities like grain, fertilizer, logs, automobiles and steel between the U.S. and its trade partners around the world. Deep-draft vessels on the Columbia River carried 52 million tons of cargo worth over $21 billion in 2017, making the channel a critical economic resource for our region and state.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains the channel, dredging it to keep it at its federally authorized depth and ensuring navigation features like jetties and pile dikes are maintained. Dredged material – mainly clean sand – is placed in strategic, permitted areas both in the river and on land. But after years of maintenance, existing placement sites are reaching capacity and space is needed for the estimated 6 to 8 million cubic yards of material that’s expected to be dredged each year.
In summer 2017, the Corps and five lower Columbia River ports began the process of developing a joint environmental impact statement (EIS) and a long-term maintenance plan for the channel. The plan, known as the Lower Columbia River Channel Maintenance Plan, will ensure the channel is maintained and operational at its 43-foot depth for another 20 years.
National and State Environmental Policy Acts
The Corps is the lead federal agency under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for preparing an EIS. The ports of Longview, Kalama, Woodland and Vancouver in Washington, and the Port of Portland in Oregon, are the sponsor ports and are the non-federal sponsors of the plan. As the non-federal sponsors, the Washington ports are also responsible for actions that require compliance with the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).
The Corps and the sponsor ports, with input from the public and stakeholders, will determine the best management plan for placing dredged material and evaluate ways to reduce the need for dredging. The planning effort will consider the natural resources of the Lower Columbia River while keeping the region open for business. A well-maintained channel allows larger ships to carry significantly more cargo, supports regional and local jobs, and provides major and direct economic benefits and maintains local and federal navigation investments.
A Notice of Intent (NEPA)/Determination of Significance (SEPA) announcing the Corps’ and sponsor ports’ proposal to jointly prepare an EIS was published in the Federal Register on Sept. 8, 2017, and in local newspapers.
Initial scoping, including public meetings in Cathlamet, Longview and Vancouver, Washington, and Astoria, Portland and St. Helens, Oregon, was completed in fall 2017 (view meeting materials). The Corps is now developing the Draft EIS, which is expected to be complete in early 2019. Once the DEIS is available, there will be a public comment period and additional public meetings to gather input that will inform completion of the Final EIS.
The FEIS is expected to be complete and the new channel maintenance plan take effect in 2020.
For more information on the channel and the maintenance planning process, please contact the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Portland District office at 503-808-4510 or ColumbiaNavChannel@usace.army.mil.