Port of Lewiston Expansion Comments due Friday Night

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) extended the deadline until March 30, 2012, for public comments about the environmental assessment (EA) and finding of no significant impact (FONSI) analyses of the proposed Port of Lewiston Dock Expansion and Storage Area Development.  This project specifically aims to accommodate larger cargo on a regular basis, like the Alberta tar sands megaloads that have invaded and damaged Highway 95, Moscow streets, and Highway 12 through the Wild and Scenic Lochsa-Clearwater river corridor.  Together, north central Idahoans have prevented and protested these transports on our roads; let’s flood the Walla Walla Corps offices with letters of continuing resistance and block megaloads in Idaho at their point of arrival.  Please write a few paragraphs to Corps officials, urging decision makers to choose the “No Action” Alternative 1 before midnight on Friday evening.  Ask your friends, co-workers, and family members to pen their opinions, too.  For suggestions of key points to include in your letter to the Corps, please peruse WIRT’s formal July 22 Port of Lewiston Permit Application Comments and consider the following arguments suggested by Fighting Goliath and Friends of the Clearwater.  Also see the Port of Lewiston category on the WIRT website for a recent project summary and government document links, additional talking points, and related news articles.

Inadequate Analysis

Expansion of the Port’s dock and yards could secondarily and cumulatively impact many environmental and social factors: Clearwater and Snake river shoreline erosion and modification, floodplains and wetlands, water quantity and quality, fish and wildlife populations, riparian flooding hazards and protective measures, private and historic properties, area land use, aesthetics, and recreation, energy production and conservation, the regional economy and public resources, and the safety and welfare of Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington citizens.  Although the Corps is mandated to identify and deliberate multiple alternatives of the project, the 73 pages of the EA not only do not address many of these aspects, they only consider the proposed action in the preferred Alternative 2.  For example, the Corps ignores the potential effects of increased megaload traffic that Port expansion would foist on the other users, shared infrastructure, and essential qualities of Highways 12 and 95.  The EA also does not consider the more favorable location and use of deeper, nearby barge berthing facilities and diversification of Port activities to foster more truck and rail transportation.  In light of the Port’s broad influence on many regional dynamics, the Corps should prepare a full environmental impact statement (EIS) and host public hearings on the Port expansion EA and/or EIS before finalizing decisions about this proposal.

Premature Decision

At the taxpayer expense of 13 million dollars, the Army Corps of Engineers is studying solutions to rising sediment levels in the Clearwater River channel and associated flood protection for Lewiston.  The federal agency will soon issue a long-awaited environmental impact statement and comment period on costly dredging near the Clearwater/Snake confluence that, along with dock construction, could seriously affect salmon, steelhead, bull trout, and other already challenged aquatic species.  Approving Port dock expansion prior to release of the dredging EIS and its findings would inappropriately overlook sediment issues that could arise during construction of an expanded dock and/or with continued Port operations.  The proposed dock extension looms over only 13 feet of river depth near where both rivers drop their silt loads as they converge and approach slack water at the top of the Snake/Columbia river dam system.  Future dredging to maintain sufficient berthing depth for barges is inevitable.  Thus, any decisions to proceed with port facilities modifications, which are fundamentally ill-advised in terms of the Port’s location and inherent threats of flooding Lewiston, should be postponed until the dredging EIS examines Port sediment issues and the Corps produces an full EIS for this project.

Declining Port Business

For over a decade and as indicated by the Port’s own data, the quantity of cargo and container shipments moving through the Port of Lewiston has declined significantly.  Subsequently, taxpayers have heavily subsidized below-cost Port operations and maintenance.  Shipment decreases and the availability of other area ports render expansion of the Port’s dock and facilities, obviously a pork barrel project for its proponents, both moot and unjustified during lean fiscal times.  Considering that river bottom sediment accumulation is reducing barge berthing clearance by about an inch per year, the proposed expansion is a boondoggle that would further waste more tax dollars on its economic and environmental nonsense.  Instead of continued taxpayer investment in unviable and increasingly unneeded Lewiston dock facilities, pertinent officials could strengthen and integrate rail and truck routes and transportation in the region.

Displaced Megaloads

In the June 22, 2011, Public Notice of Application for Permit, Port of Lewiston personnel noted that “the purpose of the proposed work is to increase efficiency of the operation, allow berthing of multiple barges, and accommodate loading and unloading of oversized cargo.”  However, since May 2010, citizen protests and legal challenges have caused corporations seeking to offload megaloads at the Port to rethink their proposed land routes through Idaho and Montana.  Only 33 such shipments of large cargo landed at the Port in October 2010 and remained stranded until July 2011, while another 23 launched from the Port of Wilma between September and December 2011.  All other similar transports have stopped using, perhaps permanently, Idaho’s lone port and two connected rural roads.  According to a mid-January 2012 Lewiston Tribune article, Port manager David Doeringsfeld said, “We are not currently working with any companies on transporting any oversized loads on Highway 95 or 12 in the near future.”  Apparently, the necessity of Port dock and yard expansion for megaload use is grounded in the precarious presumption that “if we build it, they will come,” which is not a well-founded basis for taxpayer expenditures during an economic downturn similarly precipitated by unwise speculation.

Economic Detriments

The Port of Lewiston’s stated mission is to foster ‘economic growth.’  But the Port expansion EA says that the proposed action, “would not necessarily result in any increase in the number of barges, the amount of cargo, or the use of the Port as a transportation hub, as usage is largely based on the state of the economy and on unknown market forces.”  Taxpayers should not be expected to finance a project that could only questionably buttress the regional economy and that will more likely damage it.  By accommodating megaload traffic, dock expansion will degrade north central Idaho roads, compromise the highway access, safety, and convenience of private, business, and recreational drivers, and damage the only growing industry in the region, tourism and travel.  By assisting the multinational corporate transformation of the treasured Lochsa-Clearwater Wild and Scenic River environs around Highway 12 into a “high and wide” route to the Alberta tar sands, a half dozen port personnel could destroy 4600 jobs.  The corridor’s wild, pristine traits and six national scenic/historic route designations support a $150 million annual travel/tourism industry.  Likewise, changing the character of Moscow’s economically and culturally vibrant downtown, by encouraging an industrial truck route along Highway 95 through Washington Street, unfairly disadvantages small town businesses.  The Corps considered none of these economic aspects and related cumulative effects in its Port expansion EA; a comprehensive EIS review of the project is obviously in order.

Thank you for commenting on the Port of Lewiston Dock Expansion and Storage Area Development, as you advance our regional efforts to halt megaload invasions on Highways 12 and 95 from their Idaho source at the Port of Lewiston.  Please include your name, address, and phone number with your remarks and “COMMENT: Port of Lewiston dock expansion” in the subject line of your message emailed to PortofLewistonDock@usace.army.mil or mailed to:

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Walla Walla District

CENWW-PD-EC, ATTN: Sandy Shelin

201 North Third Avenue

Walla Walla, WA 99362-1876

Your input is crucial: THANKS!

(From WIRT Newsletter)

Read more: Port of Lewiston Environmental Assessment Comments

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