GRANTS PASS — An agreement between the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will keep shipping channels open at small ports on the Oregon coast after federal funding dried up.
Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Michelle Helms said the agreement calls for Oregon to provide up to $5 million a year for the next four years for a Corps dredge to handle the work.
Silt flowing down rivers fills in the shipping channels at small ports unless they are dredged.
Dredging had been paid by budget appropriations known as earmarks, which members of Congress can add to benefit their home states. But those were eliminated by Republicans controlling the U.S. House as a way to reduce the federal budget.
The dredge Yaquina is to start soon at the Port of Siuslaw in Florence, followed by the Port of Umpqua in Reedsport and Port Orford.
The corps dredge will work on federal shipping channels, but it’s too big to work around marinas, said Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg. A truck-mounted portable dredge will be bought with lottery bonds to do that work.
How to pay for dredging small ports on the Oregon coast has long been an issue. To pay for tax cuts in 2002, the Bush administration cut funding in the Corps of Engineers budget to dredge 435 small ports around the country. Members of Congress turned to earmarks to fill the gap.
Then last year, Republicans controlling the House cut off earmarks as a cost-cutting move. DeFazio held a meeting of coastal interests last winter, and state lawmakers from the coast and Kitzhaber’s Regional Solutions team set to work on the problem.
The Legislature ended up appropriating $3 million to pay for dredging at ports on the south coast, and the Oregon Business Development Department offered $2 million from port funds, said governor’s spokesman Tim Raphael.
“This would not have been possible without the funds made available through the agreement we crafted,” said state Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose. Small ports “couldn’t survive if we didn’t figure out a way to get them some dredging,” she said.
A 2013 report on the Port of Bandon concluded that 54 businesses employing 441 people depended on keeping shipping channels open. The small port added $27 million to the regional economy and paid $8 million in taxes, the governor’s office said.