June 23, 2004

Wyden Wins Approval on Amendment to Keep Hopper Dredges Working in Pacific Ports

Measure requiring better use of taxpayer dollars, better port maintenance is voted into major water resources bill today

Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) today won passage of his amendment to eliminate artificial restrictions on the operation of the two Northwest hopper dredges, as the restrictions do not save taxpayer dollars and in fact have led to inadequate maintenance of Pacific ports. The Wyden amendment, approved today by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, directs the Secretary of the Army instead to operate the dredges to the maximum extent practicable and in the manner that is most cost effective and in the best financial interest of taxpayers. Restrictions on the use of the Essayons and Yaquina dredges were imposed in 1993 to promote private industry participation in dredging; however, a study by the General Accounting Office (GAO) found that the restrictions led to insufficient dredging of ports on the Pacific Coast. This, in turn, has raised shipping costs and financially damaged coastal communities and businesses. "Oregon taxpayers shouldn't be paying for dredges that aren't working, and Oregon's coastal communities shouldn't have to take a hit from artificial restrictions that don't save money and that leave our ports less safe," said Wyden, who authored the amendment along with U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). "If dredging isn't done right, our coastal economies suffer, and this amendment will help get our ports and coastal businesses back on track." According to the GAO, restrictions on operation of the Army Corps hopper dredge fleet have effectively reduced the annual work schedule of the Corps' hopper dredges from about 230 days per year to about 180 days. However, GAO found that most of the costs of the Corps' hopper dredges are incurred even if the dredges aren't working. This means that in addition to a decline in port maintenance, there are virtually no cost savings to taxpayers from limiting the number of days the hopper dredges can work. Adopting a standard based on the best interests of the taxpayers will also allow dredging work to be performed by private dredge contractors when that is the most cost-effective approach. No work will be set aside either for the private dredge industry or the Army Corps dredges; all dredging work will be conducted based on cost-effectiveness and benefit to taxpayers, coastal communities and ports. "We very much appreciate the leadership of Senators Wyden, Crapo and Boxer. They understand the importance of keeping harbors and channels open for trade and commerce," said Glenn Vanselow, Executive Director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association. "Lifting the restrictions will benefit the taxpayers by reducing costs and increasing responsiveness in meeting West Coast navigation needs." The Wyden amendment is now part of the Water Resources Development Act, which is expected to be considered by the full Senate in the coming months.