I am not sure how much of this report actually considered increased sediment load within the watershed. That's a question many of you can ask later today in Lewiston at the public hearing at Lewis-Clark State College at 5:30 p.m.
In 2008, I was writing news here in McCall, I had started a long, summer long actually and award-winning, series on the aftermath of the 2007 forest fires in the Payette and Boise national forests, mostly in the South Fork of the Salmon River drainage. The fires basically laid waste to most of the watershed from the upper reaches of the South Fork to about midway to the confluence with the Salmon River where more fires occurred. Also, major South Fork tribs, Secesh and East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River drainages adequately burned to a crisp. So, there I was in 2008, a year after the fires and a week removed from telling people about the problems with hydroponic soils in this series (dirt burned to the point it becomes plastic, which leads to the potential for huge land slides) and it (massive landslides) happened (wow, a journalism story about potential impacts and they actually arrive on cue!) South Fork and the East Fork of the South Fork to a greater extent have this massive slide, I'm talking 20 foot deep sediment load on the East Fork Road in some spots.
Reporter boy needs to go do a story and he needs photos of the work to remove the sediment and he needs to go into Yellow Pine to get the pulse of the hinterland republic, sorry public. The plan, park on the west side of the slide, meet county road superintendent (who parks on east side so he can drive me into Yellow Pine) and great guy who's far more impressive than his title or his demeanor will reveal (one of those I get things done guys) in the middle of the slide and then he takes me into Yellow Pine to see if the natives are restless (you know a good opportunity to hear just how bad the Forest Service really is).
So, everything is going well, photos check, meeting with road superintendent check, interviews in Yellow Pine check and then here I am reporter boy walking back to my truck parked on the west side of the biggest slide at Park Creek west of Yellow Pine after talking to Yellow Pine residents about this latest natural disaster and I get off my path a little bit (you know the path where I don't sink in mud and quicksand). I find myself standing on a boulder about to jump into the mud that on the surface has dried somewhat and I figure no big deal, it's going to hold me. Right? I jump off the boulder and go waist deep into the slide (obviously I've put on some weight) and great, it's late Friday afternoon and no one's going to come this way until Monday since the slide's closed the road. Great, so this is how it ends. I start debating with myself which has better odds death from exposure or wild animal happens by and enjoys a meal.
No, I wiggled my way out within 30 minutes, having watched far too much Discovery Channel. I even went back in the quicksand to retrieve my shoe when I came up one shoe short. Before getting myself stuck in the mud, I was seriously concerned about all the sediment and what that meant for the salmon of the South Fork watershed, but mostly after being stuck I worried about me and whether or not I would make it back into town early enough to rent a season of Deadwood from the video store.
But did the Corps consider all the additional sediment from recent forest fires, 2012 was no picnic in the Salmon River drainage (Mustang Fire, Halstead Fire, McGuire Fire, Sheep Fire come to mind). Anyway, you would hope a $16 million report would be responsive to ever-changing situations within the watershed, but it is the Corps of Engineers and the last time they really got to digging sediment in the lower Snake was 2006 (even though they were supposed to do this every three years they apparently quit to some extent for the last six or so years as this incredibly expensive report was produced). Point being this is the Corps of Engineers, so chances are high they did no such analysis. Ask, it's a relevant question.
Now onto economics and the fact that the Lewiston port is not performing well, in fact the entire area and it's overkill three ports aren't doing well. Didn't the Port of Clarkston send all of its business across the Snake River and up the Clearwater a stretch to the Port of Lewiston? I don't know the status of the Port of Wilma, seems something is still happening there, but then again, that's the opinion of an angler who drives by it a couple of times a day during the summer months if I want to wrestle something in the reservoir.
I received some information from the Friends of the Clearwater, (and if you aren't friends with them, what's wrong with you? Well, something must be.) It was good information, stuff that needs to be investigated. I believe this is the Mr. Laughy stuff, the guy who pointed out this sediment management plan was to cost some $18 grand per barge. Anyway, the Corps removed some 400,000 cubic yards of sediment from the confluence there at Lewiston/Clarkston at the price of about $12.75 per yard. Talk about inefficiencies. Would the Corps mind paying me $12.75 per yard of moved earth, I think I could retire quite early in life. I could make a comfortable living with a hand operated shovel. Government inefficiencies aside, what's the true cost of this new plan, more importantly, is this the worst case scenario cost within these 1,500 pages or is this just some foolish number they post up that they won't make any effort to meet should they go through with it? Now, to the next part, knowing that government always does things for a higher cost than they predict, is this higher cost worth it in light of the fact that the Port of Lewiston is declining even with the Port of Clarkston's business? Some Americans like to back the underdog (only if it is winning) and the rest of them are backing a winner. Is this sediment management plan (which backs the Lewiston port and lower Snake River barging in general) backing a winner? Serious question that needs to be asked tonight. Wish I could be there, by the way, but I can't.
For the part about the Port of Lewiston being in decline (you can read other stuff I have posted about it, or you can read this part of the literature that the Friends of the Clearwater sent me)
"Shipping Trends Shipping from the Port of Lewiston has declined steadily over the past 11 years to a level less than 25% of what the POL shipped in 2000. This decline has involved every commodity. In 2000, for example, the POL shipped 914,344 tons of wheat, by far the port’s major export. That number had declined steadily to 681,005 tons in 2005 and to 499,505 by 2011. (7) Container shipments declined from 17,590 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in 2000 to 5,735 TEUs in 2005 and to 3653 TEUs in 2011, though the latter figure is reported to be only 2957 TEUs by the USACE Waterborne Freight Navigation Data Center. (8) Similar declining trends hold true for the entire Columbia/Snake River System. (9)
In 2011, the last full year for which data is available, the POL shipped 499,505 tons of grain and no more than 87,672 tons of all other products. The latter figure is based on a maximum-allowed TEU container weight of 48,000 lbs. and POL shipping reports of 3,653 TEUs shipped. (10)
Nothing on the horizon suggests any significant increase in POL shipping. In fact, just the opposite is the case. For example, the new McCoy unit train loading facility now under construction just east of Rosalia, Washington, is predicted to be in operation for the 2013 grain harvest. Two local farmer cooperatives are investing $17 million in this facility, which the Washington Department of Transportation predicts will soon ship 20 million of the 51 million bushels of grain produced each year in eastern Washington and northern Idaho. (11) In 2007 the P & L short rail line in this vicinity shipped approximately 450 rail cars. This number had increased to over 2000 cars by 2011 and is predicted to increase to 4400 cars with the completion of the McCoy unit loader. (12)
Grain provided approximately 85% of the outbound tonnage at the Port of Lewiston in 2011. Further declines in grain shipments as agricultural cooperatives increase their use of rail will thus have a disproportional impact on total POL shipping. Inbound freight to the port consists largely of empty containers and thus plays an insignificant role in total shipping. The Army Corps reports that in 2011, for example, the POL received 2283 containers inbound, but all were empty. (13)
The Dredging Subsidy
The Port of Lewiston is located more than 2 miles upstream from the Port of Clarkston, including 1.3 miles on the Clearwater River. According to a 2009 report sponsored by the Clearwater Economic Development Association assessing possible regional manufacturing opportunities related to wind energy, with respect to marine shipping the Port of Clarkston “has acquiesced to the Port of Lewiston because there is not enough shipping to benefit both Ports.” (14) An Idaho Department of Labor regional economist noted in December 2011 the POC’s crane had not been used for several years. (15) In reporting on a November 2012 POC Commissioner meeting, the Lewiston Morning Tribune cited limited POC crane dock use for 5 years and indicated the U.S. Army Corps’ proposed dredging project was “designed to help maintain the depth of the barging channel to Lewiston.” (16)
In 2011 the POL shipped an estimated 587,177 tons of product. At a projected annualized cost of $3,168,862, the cost per ton attributable to channel dredging would be $5.40. If the projected cost of $18 million for the PSMP/EIS is eliminated from the equation, the cost per ton drops to $3.86. Note again these costs do not include the Army Corps’ ongoing sediment monitoring and contract management costs nor likely dredging costs in the POL’s berthing area.
The POL website states that a fully loaded barge carries on average 3500 tons. A conservative estimate of the taxpayer subsidy for each barge load attributable to confluence dredging is then either $18,900 (with sediment planning included) or $13,510 without sediment planning. The cost of dredging in this analysis is based on 2005/2006 prices and does not consider any increased sediment deposition at the Snake/Clearwater confluence. This subsidy also does not include the yearly costs of operating the locks or millions of dollars for regularly required lock and dam maintenance.
The 10-year cost estimate for maintaining the navigation channel through the Snake-Clearwater confluence without considering the cost of sediment management planning is $22, 688,620. Attributing one half of the PSMP costs to this 10-year period raises the projected cost to $31,688,620. Applying an inflation factor of 3% raises the annual cost for confluence dredging alone by the 10th year to $3,229,367 and the total 10-year dredging cost to $29,985,775. A reasonable estimate for the taxpayer subsidy that will be provided to keep the Port of Lewiston’s marine operations viable for the next 10 years, provided the amount of sediment reaching the confluence does not increase, is $38,985,775.
As noted above, 85% of the tonnage shipped from the POL in 2011 was wheat. Thus taxpayers are subsidizing area wheat growers who ship their wheat on barges around $2 million per year just for channel dredging. If the Army Corps’ cost of sediment planning were included, this annual subsidy would be about $2.7 million exclusive of inflation. Dredging of the berthing area at the POL would add a further subsidy. If the amount of wheat shipped from the POL continues to decline, the subsidy per ton will grow.
In his excellent history of the lower Snake River dams titled River of Life, Channel of Death, Keith Petersen points out that the Corps knew in the 1950s the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers would become a major sediment trap. The proposed solution was the Asotin dam, to be located 5 miles upstream from Asotin, Washington on the Snake River. This dam would have eliminated over 80% of the sediment reaching the S/C confluence and hence the Ports of Lewiston and Clarkston. But the Asotin dam was never built, which leaves the Army Corps in a perpetual financial hole.
Today, their proposed solution is to keep digging."
That's it for now everyone.
To the salmon out there in the ocean, I just have one thing to say and I quote my favorite band Pearl Jam from 2006, "from wherever you are...oh, oh, oh...come back."
We'll get these dams knocked down, someday, when reason and common sense get back to winning arguments again.