State senators Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden took the first step in a long journey of helping their southern coastal cities maintain open harbors by asking the Senate Appropriations Committees Energy and Water Development Subcommittee for increased funding.

The senators sent formal letters requesting reinstatement of federal funding for harbor maintenance dredging of the shallow draft ports of Brookings Harbor, Gold Beach and Bandon.

The administrations 2003 budget proposal would eliminate maintenance dredging funding for shallow draft ports of 14 feet or less nationwide.

Oregon, and the entire Pacific Northwest, depends on its ports for trade and recreation. Without well-maintained navigation channels, fishermen cant get out of the marina, farmers cant get their crops to market and manufacturers cant export their goods, Smith said in a press release. Without funding for these ports, Oregons coastal communities face economic ruin.

The economic viability of Oregons rural and coastal communities is being threatened by proposed elimination of funding for Operation and Maintenance dredging by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The senators letters were drafted and sent to senators Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman and ranking member of the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, in response to a request from port managers all along the Oregon coast.

Brookings Harbor Port Manager Russ Crabtree has spearheaded the southern coastal effort to reinstate the federal funding for maintenance dredging.

We specifically requested letters be sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee, explained Crabtree, who drafted his own letter to the subcommittee.

This is the first step. Then we have to have our vanguards carry this thing through the entire process, he said.

I really appreciate everything our representatives and senators are doing for us.

The senators are championing the cause of smaller ports throughout the state that commercial and recreational fishermen and boaters bring valuable economic benefits to the smaller coastal towns.

These smaller ports, including Brookings Harbor and Gold Beach, not only service boaters and fisherman, but support marina operations, commercial and retail centers, and are key elements in South Coast tourism, Crabtree said.

Brookings, Bandon and Gold Beach need this funding to maintain commerce in their ports and the jobs that go along with it, Wyden said. The people of Oregon are already hurting. Im concerned that the cuts called for in the administrations budget could drain the economic lifeblood out of our vital coastal communities.

The Brookings Harbor port manager said there are two dredges that are used to maintain harbor channels in the Pacific Northwest.

The Essayon is used for deeper draft ports such as the Columbia River. The Yaquina primarily works the South Coast, Crabtree said.

The Yaquina was renovated specifically for the Chetco River about 30 years ago, Crabtree said.

The Brookings Harbor port manager said the Yaquina was re-engineered so it can operate in the Chetco River channel without endangering the ports dock.

In addition to seeking reinstatement of maintenance dredging funds, Crabtree said ports are also seeking an increase in the number of days the dredges can work. He said the dredges and the work they do is imperative to both economic and safety issues of coastal cities.

These dredges are national assets in times of emergency. And with whats happening in our world today, its an asset we cant do without, Crabtree said.

He said they should know about the administrations decision by mid-summer.