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Editorial: Our river is shoaling up

Democrat-Herald, OPINION, June 21, 2007, Hasso Herring wrote,

Last Friday, Marion County shut down the Wheatland Ferry because of low water in the Willamette River. It's an example of what will happen to more and more river users as long as current policies prevail.

"The ferry will remain closed through June 29 for a river dredging project and ferry maintenance," the county announced.

It's good that dredging is planned to get the ferry going again. Ferries now seem to have priority. In 2000, the Buena Vista fetry was shut down all of July and August and part of Septembet when a gravel bar blocked its way. It took that long to get a permit from the Corps of Engineers and then get the dredging completed.

Buena Vista and Wheatland are not the only places where a little dredging now and then would do some good. The Corps of Engineers stopped dredging the river more than 30 years ago, and the state agencies, oppose, on environmental grounds, any attempts to do so again.

In Albany, the city council also has been cool to the idea of active channel maintenance. Former legislator Liz VanLeeuwen asked the council in April to join a channel maintenance interest group. The council promised her an answer but hasn't given her one, although the city staff is said to be preparing a report.

This has been a fairly dry year, and the river is running low. Boaters risk running aground in more places than usual. Unless a channel is maintained, this can only get worse with time. Rivetboats like the Willamette Queen can no longer run the supposedly navigable Willamette. The boat had to leave Albany for Salem in 1999, and now it can barely move even there.

Opponents of dredging argue that a shallow, meandering river is what the Willamette used to be, and that this natural state is better for fish and other aquatic life. But nobody is talking about scouring the river of all the gravel. For tourism and local recreation, though, it would be helpful to have a navigable channel so that the Queen -- and other boats carrying visitors and locals -- could travel up and down the river now and then. --hh (Hat tip: Liz)

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