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Columbia River Channel Improvement Project

The first dredging contract of the Columbia River Channel Improvement Project finished February 2006. This consisted of deepening the lower 18 miles of the Columbia River (River Miles 3  to 21) and dredging work in the upper river from RM 95 to just past RM 104, and the first mile of Oregon Slough. More than 2.6 million cubic yards of sand were removed; the 28 miles dredged account for a fourth of the project's 103-mile length.


The work was done by Illinois-based Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Co., at a cost of $8.7 million. All amounts of sand dredged by Great Lakes' Sugar Island dredge were calculated with pre- and post-dredged surveys or measured by hopper load. Hydrographic surveys used a multi-beam survey for added accuracy. In the upper river, the Sugar Island placed dredged material in front of the Port of Portland's dredge "Oregon," which then pumped the dredged material to an upland disposal site in Vancouver, Wash.


In January 2006, the dredge Oregon deepened the first mile of Oregon Slough at River Mile 102. The CRCIP is a collaborative effort between the Corps and six Columbia River ports to improve navigation by deepening the channel to accommodate the current fleet of international bulk cargo and container ships, and improve the Columbia River estuary by finishing other environmental restoration projects. The first ecosystem restoration project associated with the CRCIP was finished in December 2004; more were completed in 2006 and 2007. The construction at Lord-Walker (near Longview, Wash.) included excavating 620 cubic yards of sand from the downstream end of Lord Island to improve water conditions to embayments within the island complex. The improvements increased habitat for juvenile salmon migrating to the Pacific Ocean.


Years of study led the Corps to the plan recommended in its final report, issued August 1999; its final supplemental report, issued January 2003; and its Record of Decision, signed January 2004: deepen the 40-foot shipping channel by 3 feet to allow continued navigation access and the economic benefits of waterborne commerce along the length of the shipping channel and improve the natural environment by constructing ecosystem restoration projects -- specifically, enhancement of salmon habitat. While coordination with the public, other agencies and special interest groups has been integral to the process throughout the study, the agency's history leads some to assume a bias favoring construction. This perceived bias is the basis for criticism of various topics of the study (i.e., economics, sediment contamination and potential environmental effects.)

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What is the significance of the Record of Decision?

The Record of Decision, or ROD, is a written public record to close out the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process by explaining why the agency has is recommending a particular course of action. Provided Congress appropriates construction funds, the Corps can now proceed with the construction of the project.

What is included in the ROD?

The ROD summarizes the final selected plan, including modifications necessary to meet the states' conditioned approvals. It addresses formulation of alternatives and what was ultimately selected.

How has the project changed from the proposal contained in the Jan. 2003 final supplemental?

In the Final Supplemental Integrated Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact Statement, the Corps selected the environmentally preferred alternative as its recommended plan. However, due to the conditions the states of Oregon and Washington have placed on the construction activities, the Corps modified that plan, therefore we will not proceed with construction of the Lois-Mott and Miller-Pillar ecosystem restoration features, and instead will transport the materials for those two sites to the ocean for disposal. Additionally, the embayment portion of the Martin Island mitigation site will not be constructed.

How soon can the Corps begin construction work on the project?

Work on the one or two ecosystem restoration features will begin as soon as the Project Cooperation Agreement is executed; construction probably can begin this spring, and dredging of the navigation channel will begin summer 2005.

Do you have enough funding to begin work?

We have sufficient funds to begin work on both the ecosystem restoration work and preparation of plans and specifications for the dredging contracts.

Is there anything more for the Corps to do before work can begin?

The Corps is scheduled to execute a Project Cooperation Agreement with the non-Federal sponsors in February. That agreement spells out each party' s expectations, roles and responsibilities, and is serves as the non-Federal sponsors' commitment to fund their portion of the construction costs.

Did the benefit-to-cost ratio change? What is it now?

No. The BCR remains 1.7:1, as presented in the January 2003 Final Supplemental Integrated Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact Statement. The cost of the project did rise slightly in response to conditions on state approvals, however, and as a result the annualized return on investment dropped slightly from $1.71:$1 to $1.66:$1.

As a result of conditions placed on the project by the states, we will not proceed with construction of the Lois-Mott and Miller-Pillar ecosystem restoration features or the Martin Island embayment portion of mitigation on Martin Island (decreased costs), and instead will take material from the estuary to the ocean for disposal (increased costs).

I've seen different costs associated with this project. What is the right number?

There are two ways to look at the cost of the project: Fully funded and point-in-time. We use both depending on the best way to answer a specific question.

Fully funded, the project will cost $151 million. This number represents the amount of actual funds the Corps and states will need to pay the bills associated with the construction and related activities. This number assumes the project will be constructed on a schedule that is considered to be the most cost-efficient. (This figure compares to $172M in the 1999 report ($196M for both Willamette and Columbia), and $147M in the 2003 report).

Point-in-time, the project cost is $136 million. This number represents the cost of the project in today's dollar value (not pushed out in time to the point of construction, as in the fully-funded estimate). The navigation portion of this amount is also the number we use when people ask about the benefit-to-cost ratio. Since economic equations require a "point-in-time" reference, this number serves that purpose. Also, you want to compare apples to apples when you weigh the cost of a project to its associated benefits. (This figure compares to $160.8M in the 1999 report and $133.6M in the 2003 report).

What is your position on possibly having to take material out to the ocean?

Our first choice would be to keep the sand in the estuary where we could put it to beneficial use. We will work to minimize ocean disposal, however, ocean disposal is a viable option and we will use it if necessary.

Was funding provided in the FY04 appropriations?

The Corps received $3.5 million for the Columbia River Channel Improvement Project as part of its FY04 appropriations. The money will be used to continue required evaluation and monitoring, and being work on the ecosystem restoration features, as well as initiation of dredging activities.

What is the Columbia River Channel Improvement Project? What is the purpose of the channel improvement project?

A proposal to deepen the 600-foot-wide Columbia River navigation channel from 40 feet to 43 feet along its 106-mile length from the mouth of the Columbia River to Portland/Vancouver.

Research and restoration actions also will be undertaken to benefit the existing habitat. The dual purposes are to improve the deep-draft transport of goods on the authorized Columbia River navigation channel and to provide ecosystem restoration for fish and wildlife habitats. The deepening has been found to be in the national interest, providing $18.8 million in annual transportation cost savings.

What is different between the original project proposed in 1999 and the one approved in the Record of Decision?

The authorized project includes deepening approximately 103 miles of the Columbia River Navigation Channel and related turning basins, wildlife mitigation features to offset wetland, agricultural and riparian forest habitat losses resulting from dredged material disposal, and construction of ecosystem restoration features. Disposal of dredged material could include upland, in-river and ocean sites.

The changes add ecosystem restoration features, evaluation actions, monitoring and adaptive management. The additional ecosystem restoration features are conservation measures that result from consultation with NOAA Fisheries and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under Section 7 (a)(1) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and are intended to aid in the recovery of the ESA-listed salmonid stocks.
Monitoring, evaluation actions, adaptive management measures, and best management practices for dredging and disposal are a result of consultation under Section 7 (a)(2) and have been incorporated as terms and conditions of the incidental take statements by both Services.
A Supplemental Integrated Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact Statement (Draft SEIS) was produced after completion of ESA reconsultation in order to consider new information that had been developed since the issuance of the IFR/FEIS and to address the proposed changes to the project that resulted from the consultation under Sections 7(a)(1) and (2).
The following is a bulletized list of the key items that changed.

  • 3 Years of data on Smelt
  • 3 Years of data on Sturgeon
  • Reduction in Rock Blasting
  • Revised Dredging Quantities
  • Additional Information on Dungeness Crab
  • ESA Consultation
  • 5 New Ecosystem Restoration Features
  • Ecosystem Evaluation and Monitoring Actions
  • Revised Costs and Revised Benefits
How did you come up with the benefit-to-cost ratio? The benefit-to-cost ratio is a comparison of the cost estimate and benefits estimate. The Corps took the average annualized cost of completing the navigation-related portion of the project and divided that into the average annualized benefits. In this case:

Annualized Benefits ÷ Annualized Cost = BCR or $18.8 ÷ $11.3 = 1.66

If you cannot find information you believe should be available, please contact the Portland District Public Affairs office at (503) 808-4510 or via e-mail to: dll-cenwp-webmaster@usace.army.mil
For more than 128 years, the lower Columbia River has been maintained - through dredging - to provide safe passage of cargo ships making the 106-mile trip between Portland, Ore., and the Pacific Ocean. This important link for national and international commerce aided in the development of the region, and continues to contribute to the regional and national economies.
Since the first dredging operations in 1873, the channel has periodically been deepened to accommodate evolutions of larger, deeper-draft cargo ships calling on the world's ports, including those in Oregon and southwestern Washington. The last effort to improve navigation in the river occurred in the 1970s when the channel was deepened to its current 40-foot depth.
In the late 1980s, several Columbia River ports joined together to request the Congress to direct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to study navigation in the river. The Corps began a reconnaissance study in 1989, and concluded in 1990 that the potential existed for improving the navigation channel and that further study was warranted. In 1994, Congress directed the Corps to began a five-year feasibility study to evaluate options for improving navigation in the river.
The Corps worked with the Columbia River ports that originally requested the initial study and entered an agreement with them to partner and share the cost of the feasibility study and any resulting construction. The ports included Portland, St. Helens, and Astoria in Oregon, and Vancouver, Kalama, Longview and Woodland in Washington.
The purpose of the feasibility study was to identify potential actions, determine the best course of action to take (if any), determine how much that action would cost and associated national economic benefits, and identify potential environmental impacts and restoration actions. The Corps also completed a Dredged Material Management Study (DMMS) to evaluate the most efficient way to maintain the existing 40-foot navigation channel. This provided the study team a baseline condition for evaluation purposes.
The feasibility study evaluated various alternatives for improving navigation in the Columbia River. The alternatives studied included dredging the river bottom to various depths, updating river level forecasting systems, upgrading existing port facilities or developing a regional port, and taking no action. At the completion of the study, the Corps concluded deepening the channel to a depth of 43 feet provided the most benefit to the nation of the studied options.
The DMMS was completed in 1998; the feasibility study was completed in August 1999 and the project was authorized by Congress in December 1999. The project, as authorized, serves multiple purposes, including navigational improvements and environmental restoration.
Deepening the Columbia River federal navigation channel requires full compliance with various environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). To comply with NEPA, the Corps conducted an environmental review of the project and published comprehensive environmental impact statements for both the feasibility study and the DMMS. For their part, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued a ?No Jeopardy? Biological Opinion in December 1999 on the expected impacts to salmonids; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) completed its ?No Jeopardy? Biological Opinion on the potential impacts to birds, wildlife and plant species in December 1999. NMFS later withdrew their document in August 2000, citing the availability of new information.
In February 2001, Sustainable Ecosystems Institute (SEI) was retained to help resolve scientific concerns raised in connection with the Columbia River Channel Improvement Project. The Corps, NMFS, and USFWS jointly agreed to use SEI's experience to help resolve fishery issues surrounding the project.
The SEI process included formal and informal review of scientific materials by SEI staff and an independent panel of seven scientific experts. This process included five workshops, which were open to the public, from March 2001 to August 2001 to review the science underlying the proposed Columbia River Channel Improvement Project. It also included ad hoc meetings between panelists and project managers and agency scientists, as well as a questionnaire completed by all the panelists. Based on its comprehensive discussion of all relevant issues (numeric and conceptual modeling, fisheries, sediment and water quality, and monitoring and adaptive management), the panel determined that the knowledge base is adequate to resolve environmental concerns through the reconsultation process. The panel addressed only issues relevant to conservation of threatened and endangered salmonids.
The Corps has worked closely with NMFS and USFWS to address the new information, as well as resolve concerns included in the original biological opinions. Updated opinions were released in May 2002. The services determined the project can proceed without jeopardizing listed species. Additionally, the states of Oregon and Washington must certify the project?s compliance with the Clean Water Act, and state water quality standards and coastal zone management rules. The project cannot proceed until all coordination is completed and state water quality certifications are issued.
Between March 2002 and July 2002, the Corps revised its economic analysis of the project to reflect the new information obtained during the reconsultation with the services, as well as taking into account new cost estimates for completing the project. The supplemental report was released for public comment on July 10, 2002. The comment period, which included several public hearings, closed Sept. 15, 2002.
On January 28, 2003, the Corps issued its final supplemental report (see below). A notice was published in the Federal Register on January 31. The final report reflects comments and information received by the Corps since the draft supplemental report was published in summer 2002.
Since receipt of water quality approvals and concurrences to the Corps' coastal zone management consistency determinations in June 2003, the Corps has modified the project to address conditions handed down by the states of Oregon and Washington. As a result of those conditions, the Corps will not proceed with construction of the Miller-Pillar or Lois-Mott ecosystem restorations features, or the embayment portion of the Martin Island mitigation site. Instead, the Corps will place some dredged material in the ocean.
The cost of the authorized project - both deepening the navigation channel and the environmental restoration component - is $136 million. The federal government will cover about 65 percent of the cost, with the states of Oregon and Washington each contributing about $27 million for the Columbia portion of the project. The Corps? final supplemental feasibility report shows a $18.8 million annual national benefit once the project is completed, or a return of $1.66 for every dollar spent on construction.
Phase One of the Columbia River Channel Improvement Project was completed in mid-February 2006. This work consisted of deepening the lower 18 miles of the Columbia River (River Mile 3 to RM 21) and dredging work in the upper river from RM 95 to just past RM 104, and the first mile of Oregon Slough.  With this completed work, more than 2.6 million cubic yards of sand was removed.
In January 2006, the dredge Oregon deepened the first mile of Oregon Slough at RM 102.

As with any major project in today's complex environmental, economic and political environment, this one has its supporters and its critics.

Event Date
Lower Columbia River ports request US Army Corps of Engineers study deepening the Columbia River Federal Navigation Channel 1988
Congress directs Corps to evaluate navigation improvements in Columbia and Willamette rivers December 1989
Reconnaissance Study Started December 1989
Reconnaissance Report Signed December 1990
Federal Cost Sharing Agreement signed. Seven ports agree to jointly sponsor Corps' feasibility study to evaluate improving navigation on the Columbia and Willamette rivers. August 1993
Dredged Material Management Study (DMMS) and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) underway April 1994 - September 1998
Corps conducts Feasibility Study and project EIS July 1994 - August 1999
Environmental restoration component added 1996
Corps releases preliminary study results 1996
Draft Integrated Feasibility Report for Channel Improvements and Environmental Impact Statement released for public review October 1998
Final Integrated Feasibility Report for Channel Improvements and Environmental Impact Statement issued August 1999
Willamette River deferred from construction because of contaminated sediment concerns


August 1999
Congress includes authorization to deepen Columbia River federal navigation channel to 43 feet in Water Resource Development Act of 1999 Fall 1999
NMFS issues "No Jeopardy" Biological Opinion covering 13 species December 1999
USFWS issues "No Jeopardy" Biological Opinion covering 12 listed species (specifically addressed: Bald eagle and Columbia whitetail deer) December 1999
NMFS withdraws "No Jeopardy" Biological Opinion; Corps/NMFS reinitiate consultation. August 2000
States deny water quality certifications September 2000
SEI retained to help resolve scientific concerns raised in connection with Channel Improvement Project February 2001 - August 2001
Ports designated as non-federal representatives for NMFS consultation October 2000
USFWS joins reconsultation process January 2001
Ports designated as non-federal representatives for USFWS consultation July 2001
Corps completes Biological Assessment. Submits document to NMFS and USFWS December 2001
Corps begins work on supplemental IFR/EIS March 2002
Updated "No Jeopardy" Biological Opinions received from NMFS and USFWS May 2002
Supplemental IFR/EIS released for 60-day comment peiod July 2002
Technical review of economic analysis August 2002
Columbia River Channel Improvement Project Final Supplemental Integrated Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact Statement January 2003
Water quality certifications and Coastal Zone Management consistency determination concurrences received from states of Oregon and Washington June 2003
Record of Decision signed January 2004
Project Cooperation Agreement with sponsor signed


June 2004


Mitigation/Environmental work begins September 2004


Corps awards first dredging contract


May 2005


Dredging completed