Labor leaders ask Bush to expedite Columbia River funds

Leaders from 33 Oregon, Washington and Idaho labor unions and organizations released a letter to President George Bush June 16 urging him to take immediate action to ensure that Congress can appropriate $15 million this year to get the Columbia River Channel Improvement Project under way.

The Columbia River Channel Improvement Project would deepen the navigation channel between the ocean and Portland/Vancouver from the current 40 feet to 43 feet.

The project received $3.5 million in the Fiscal Year 2004 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, adding to previous congressional appropriations of $4.5 million in FY 2001 and $2 million in FY 2003. The states of Oregon and Washington have committed $27.7 million each in matching funds.

Union leaders and others fear that without adequate federal funding for Fiscal Year 2005, channel deepening could be delayed another year. The letter read in part:

“Unemployment in the Northwest has reached record levels. We need the economic boost of the channel deepening project to create short-term economic stimulus and long-term job stability for our region. For every dollar invested in project construction, $1.66 in national economic benefits will be generated and our region urgently needs this stimulus.

“Please do everything in your power to expedite the Office of Management and Budget project review and amend your budget request to Congress to include $15 million for FY 2005 for the Columbia River Channel Improvement Project.”

The letter was signed by Tim Nesbitt, Rick Bender and Dave Whaley, presidents of state labor federations in Oregon, Washington and Idaho; as well as from union officials representing longshore, maritime, industrial, professional and public employees.

Channel deepening also has the support of the Northwest congressional delegation; the governors of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana; and six ports.

According to the Corps of Engineers, more than 40,000 Northwest jobs are dependent on Columbia River maritime commerce as it handles 30 million tons of cargo worth $14 billion each year.

“This project helps manufacturers in the Willamette Valley, farmers in Eastern Oregon and Washington, longshoremen in Columbia County and bar pilots in Astoria. The benefits truly ripple throughout the entire Northwest,” said Peter Williamson, general manager of the Port of St. Helens.

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