Merkley, Wyden Announce Key Wins for Everyone who Relies on Oregon’s Waterways and Ports

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley—who serves on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and on the Senate Appropriations Committee—and Ron Wyden today announced that the full Senate has passed the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which includes a number of key provisions that will benefit Oregonians.

“As we continue to work to beat back the coronavirus and rebuild our economies after this devastating year, we must focus on creating the strong foundation our communities need to be healthy and thrive,” said Merkley, who authorizes these projects through his role on the Environment and Public Works Committee, and then funds them through his role on the Appropriations Committee. “That’s why I fought to ensure that this year’s WRDA bill will help us safeguard Oregon’s incredible waterways, and make key investments in the harbors and ports that our coastal economies rely on.”

“Much of Oregon’s economy flows through our state’s ports and harbors, and these investments help provide coastal communities a much-needed lifeline to survive the economic fallout of the pandemic,” Wyden said. “I’m gratified these resources are headed to Oregon waterways and will keep working to support these job-creating assets throughout our state.”

The WRDA bill provides authorizations for studies and projects that upgrade infrastructure like jetties, levees, and breakwaters in Oregon’s communities, such as West Linn and Coos Bay-North Bend, as well as critical funding for ports, such as the Port of Astoria, Port of Bandon, and Port Orford.

The bill unlocks the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) by providing the authority to appropriate $2 billion in additional funds annually for harbor maintenance needs from its existing balance. Combined with a provision from the CARES Act—which provided economic relief in response to the global pandemic—the bill provides for up to $4 billion in annual expenditures for port maintenance.

Merkley and Wyden have consistently fought to make sure small ports in Oregon and throughout the country receive a share of HMTF funding for dredging and other critical projects. This year’s WRDA bill includes language that allows, beginning in October 2022, up to $5 million of HMTF funding for Emerging Harbors—which includes most of Oregon’s—to be available for up to 10 maintenance dredging projects in marinas or berthing areas in harbors located adjacent to, or accessible by, a federal navigation project. This will bolster small ports’ access to funding for maintenance projects.

In keeping with experts’ warnings that the destruction of waterway ecosystems could cripple local economies and threaten the health of countless species, the senators fought to ensure that the WRDA bill authorizes the Army Corps of Engineers to carry out efforts to restore salmon and steelhead habitat. The bill also authorizes a number of studies that will support Oregon’s small ports and fish hatcheries.

Additionally, the bill provides authorization for the Corps to address and resolve silting and shoaling that impacts small ports, as well as flood control projects, algal bloom control measures, and construction of tribal housing along the Columbia River.

New provisions also require the Army Corps to include environmental justice considerations and disadvantaged communities’ needs in its policies, as well as expanding consultation requirements with indigenous groups when the Corps is working close to tribal lands.