Two Lower Columbia coastal ports received good news from the federal government this week: $1.8 million in maintenance dredging to help keep their harbors open to commercial fishing boats and other large vessels.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it would include $930,000 for the Port of Chinook and $876,000 for the Port of Ilwaco in its $270 million 2014 harbor maintenance plan. The money will pay to dredge passages between Chinook and Sand Island and Baker Bay that have gradually been silting in because of cuts in small harbor dredge funding, port officials said.
Securing dredge dollars are critical to keeping small ports humming, and Tuesday’s announcement is an important economic victory, supporters said.
“These ports are just as important to their communities as the big ports are. In some cases, they are the main economic driver in their community,” said Kristen Meira, executive director of the Portland-based Pacific Northwest Waterways Association.
Small ports had put off dredging for more than two years because Congress has raided the corps’ chief funding source, the Harbor and Maintenance Trust Fund, which raises $1.5 billion annually through a tax on port cargos.
In January, Congress directed the corps to spend $40 million on dredging for small ports this year but let the agency determine how to distribute the money. Members of the Northwest congressional delegation have been pressuring the corps to make small Columbia River ports and funding priority.
“We’re very thankful for the funds and thankful for all the support we’ve gotten,” Guy Glenn Jr., manager of the Port of Ilwaco, said Wednesday.
About $5.4 million was directed to Pacific Northwest ports, including Chinook. The Port of Ilwaco received money from a different pot — the deep draft harbor and channel dredging fund.
Meira said Ilwaco and Chinook were two of the only small ports to receive all of what they asked for in 2014.
She said the money can pay for a couple of years of dredging, but it’s not guaranteed source and port officials will need to continue to press for regular maintenance dredging.
Between 1,300 to 1,500 boats, including small pleasure cruisers and larger commercial fishing vessels, travel through the channel to the Port of Ilwaco, Glenn said. The dredging will ensure that river activity will continue, he said.
“We’re a small port, but for our region, we serve a large number of people,” he said.