With future federal funding for maintenance dredging still in question, Port of Brookings Harbor officials are urging Congress not to take any action that would inhibit competition in the dredging industry.
The port's board of commissioners this week approved a resolution stating it and other shallow draft port districts are being held hostage by a lack of competition in the private dredging industry.
It also stated that the federal limitations on the number of days dredges owned by the Army Corps of Engineers can work leaves shallow draft ports at the mercy of Mother Nature and unscrupulous private enterprise.
Current federal limits restrict dredges owned by the Corps to operating only 180 days per year.
"Every time the private sector has done a dredge job in the channel, it's work has been inadequate," said Port Manager Russ Crabtree.
He also said after private dredging companies have completed their work in Brookings Harbor, which is done on a yardage-removed contract basis, the job must be cleaned up and finished by the federally-owned dredge Yaquina.
"It is our strong held belief that in no way does the Private Contractor compare with the work accomplished by the Yaquina. The Yaquina's work is efficiently and professionally done, while the contractor's is totally unacceptable," Crabtree noted in a report.
The port manager's report also said private dredging operations resulted in "public property damage, non-existent public relations policy or practices, and denial of their responsibilities after the fact."
The port's resolution on competition in the dredging industry comes on the heels of a visit to Washington D.C. by Crabtree, and port commissioners Lloyd Whaley and Norma Fitzgerald.
The delegation met with the Office of Management and Budget, its Congressional leaders, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the House Appropriations Committee, and other groups to discuss reinstatement of federal funding for maintenance dredging of shallow draft ports. Those funds were eliminated from the Administration's 2002-2003 budget proposal.
The group also met with lobbyist Peter Friedmann, who works for the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department on behalf of Oregon ports. He recently suggested that the ports in danger of losing federal funding try to mobilize all State Marine Boards to act as their advocate on dredging and maintenance issues.
He also suggested the endangered ports enlist organizations such as Boats US, which represents 531,000 recreational boaters nationwide, to help their cause.
Crabtree said the Boats US was going to feature Brookings-Harbor and its delegation's trip to Washington D.C. in its monthly publication.
"Your trip to Washington D.C. had some national impact," Crabtree told the commission. "The expenses on that trip were well spent. You're going to see the impact of that trip for years to come."
Since that trip, Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio and Congressman John Duncan co-authored a letter to the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee urging reinstatement of federal funding for maintenance dredging of shallow draft ports.
The letter was signed by: James Oberstar, Darlene Hooley, Michael Doyle, Edolphus Towns, Barbara Lee, Carrie Meek, Corrine Brown, James Barcia, Marion Berry, William Delahunt, Robert Ehrlich, Bart Stupak, Lois Capps, Robert Mendez, Mike Ross, Frank Mascara, William Lipinski, Earl Blumenauer, Lynn Woolsey, Michael Honda, Walter Jones, Vito Fossella, Tom Allen and Michael Castle. All are members of the U.S. Congress.
The trip to the capitol, and the reason for it, also led to the port commission passing the resolution.
In reading the resolution, Whaley said a "lack of private dredging capacity in the U.S. has resulted in only one private industry bid, or even no private industry bid, for Corps of Engineers dredging contracts."
It said that keeping small port channels open was essential in protecting billions of public dollars already invested in port infrastructure.
Also the "viability of domestic and international maritime industry, the competitiveness of U.S. Ports, the fishing industry, recreational boating and tourism, marine and maritime labor,importers, exporters, U.S. agriculture, U.S. manufacturing, and U.S. consumers depends on the maintained U.S. navigation channels and harbors."
The resolution asked Congress and the Corps to "refrain from further restrictions on the federal hopper dredge fleet generally and to allow full utilization of the federal dredges presently on active status by removing any existing restrictions.