Oregon port representatives learned Tuesday that President Bushs proposed budget, which calls for a 14 percent cut in the Army Corps of Engineers budget, may reduce or eliminate dredging altogether at small West Coast ports including Brookings Harbor.

Russ Crabtree, executive director of the Port of Brookings Harbor, said the Presidents budget, along with a recent report of two additional feet of silting at the Chetco River entrance, was bad news.

The good news is that budget is not etched in stone and the Oregon congressional contingent along with representatives from smaller commercial and recreational fishing harbors will lobby actively for changes to this policy, Crabtree said.

In the meantime, he said, the Corps dredge Yaquina is scheduled to arrive at the port on Friday.

News of the Presidents budget came on the eve of port representatives trip to Washington D.C. to seek funding for dredging of shallow draft ports.

Peter Friedman, the Oregon ports man in Washington, D.C., said the total Corps budget would be the lowest in at least five years if the 14 percent cut was approved. The presidents administration has decided not to fund most of the new projects that members of Congress had put into last years Corps budget.

Further, Friedman reported, the administration plans to shift the focus of the corps operation and maintenance program to port, harbor and channel projects that support large commercial navigation, with a lower priority given to recreational projects and low return commercial-use projects.

The Port of Brookings Harbor falls into the low return category, he said.

Crabtree will lead a contingent of officials from the ports of Brookings Harbor, Gold Beach and Port Orford, along with Curry County Commissioner Lucie LaBont, to Washington D.C. this weekend.

Crabtree has prepared a statement on coastal shallow draft port operation and maintenance dredging which the group will present in Washington.

The Ports of Brookings Harbor, Gold Beach and Port Orford are some of this regions most active commercial and recreational fishing harbors, Crabtree states in the report.

The total economic viability of these ports is threatened without the Corps emergency response and efficient channel maintenance procedures performed by the Minimum Dredge Fleet, he said.

Crabtree said the Port of Brookings Harbor is one of the most important job creators on Oregons South Coast.

There are 541 jobs dependent on port activity in the community and another 423 associated or related to port activities.

This represents about 16 percent of the total economy in the community and about one-third of all net earnings, he said.

In 2000 there were 23,000 fishing trips that originated from port facilities resulting in bar crossings. A Corps of Engineers economic analysis study showed there was $10 benefit to $1 cost in regional economic development benefits and $3.4 to $1 in national economic development benefits for maintaining the navigation channel, he said.

In 1945 Congress authorized and appropriated funds for the dredging of the Chetco River Navigation Channel to a depth of 14 feet, Crabtree said.

Despite the obvious and increasing need for maintenance dredging and the rapidly growing amount of dredged material which needs to be removed annually, the debate surrounds maintaining federal appropriations for maintenance dredging, he said.

Local resources are not sufficient to sustain the Chetco River Channel to an adequate depth of 14 feet. If the channels depth is reduced, it will threaten the passage of commercial vessel traffic that in turn impacts the viability of the port and the surrounding community.

Crabtree said the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has established a user fee on dredging.

Dredging of 500 cubic yards will cost $500 and 25 cents for each additional yard up to a maximum of $40,000, he said.

If there is no payment, the maintenance-dredging project will not receive a 401 Certification or permit for the work, he said.

Crabtree said the additional cost for Brookings-Harbor could be as much as $10,000.

This charge will certainly result in less maintenance dredging of Oregon ports over time, he said.