A bill aimed at making the Columbia River safer for transporting cargo was signed into law last week, including a provision authored by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground.
The legislation, the Water Resources Development Act of 2020, authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study potential improvements to two turning basins near Longview and Vancouver, as well as a new turning basin on the Lower Martin Bar near Kalama.
Turning basins allow large cargo ships to park or turn around in the case of emergencies or inclement weather. There’s currently only a handful of spots along the waterway where a ship can safely turn around.
“The Columbia River supports millions of tons of cargo each year and thousands of local jobs, which is why it’s important to invest in and upgrade the river’s infrastructure,” Herrera Beutler said in a press release. “I was pleased to help champion the construction of the Kalama turning basin, which is going to support those vital jobs, and I’m pleased this infrastructure bill I helped shape has now been signed into law.”
The Columbia River is the No. 1 route for wheat exports in the nation and No. 2 for soybeans. It supports around 40,000 jobs and moves approximately $24 billion in cargo each year, making it the third largest shipping channel in the world.
“Establishing a new federal turning basin near Kalama and improving the existing turning basins near Longview and Vancouver will enable more efficient operations for our lower Columbia River ports and terminals, making them even more productive gateways for U.S. goods headed overseas,” Kristin Meira, executive director of Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, said in the press release.
Every two years, Congress’ bipartisan Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure passes a new Water Resources Development Act to respond to local needs and to ensure federal oversight of the Corps.
The full package signed into law last week includes 27 feasibility studies for water-focused projects and directs the Corps to conduct six comprehensive river basin studies.
According to a summary of the full legislation, it’s also cost-neutral; the document “directs the Corps to de-authorize up to $10 billion in outdated and antiquated construction authorities, which is equivalent to the expected cost of the projects and authorities contained in (Water Resources Development Act 2020).”