Port officials up and down the West Coast have been left in limbo after President Trump declared a “National Emergency Concerning the Southern Border of the United States” and threatening to take money from dredging projects to help pay for a $5.7 billion wall.
According to Ray Bucheger, a partner of federal lobbying group FBB Federal Relations in Washington, D.C., money could be diverted from the Department of Defense, including the Army Corps of Engineers.
“It’s too early to know whether the President’s proclamation will hold up in court, and therefore, we don’t know if any money will actually be diverted from its intended use,” he said. “If the President is ultimately able to shift money to the southern border, the question is where, exactly, that money would come from, and whether it will affect our ability to obtain dredging money for the Columbia River and Oregon’s coastal ports. The short answer is we don’t know.”
They do know the president intends to shift billions of dollars from various programs, including $3.5 billion from the Corps of Engineers. That agency’s funding that would most likely be affected includes that tied to military construction activities, some of the $13 billion in disaster funds Congress approved last year for Puerto Rico and states hit by hurricanes, floods and other disasters.
Another $600 million is said to come from drug forfeiture funds, Bucheger said, along with $2.5 billion from the Pentagon’s drug interdiction program.
Port of Brookings Harbor Manager Gary Dehlinger said he’s not going to worry until more information becomes available.
The Yaquina dredge vessel comes through the local port once a year for about a week to dredge the channel to prevent boats from running aground.
“It depends on the river,” Dehlinger said. “A couple of years ago, at low tide, some of the bigger boats hit some mounds of dirt in the channel. But it depends on the river, the silt that comes down the river and what gets moved around.”
He said he can’t imagine the chaos that could ensue if the channel weren’t dredged on an annual basis. Dehlinger’s more immediate concern is the boat basins.
“The basins haven’t been dredged in a very long time,” Dehlinger said. “They need it. The docks are hitting bottom in areas.”
Jeffrey Henon, the public affairs specialist with the Army Corps district office in Portland, said they don’t have updated information yet.
“We just do the job we’re authorized and funded to do,” he said.