Port of Portland: Deepening the Columbia River Shipping Channel


When oceangoing ships make the transit up to Portland and other Portland area deepwater ports, they have to travel over 90 miles along a river, the Columbia, which is known both as a hub for commerce, as well as a tourist attraction. But, at the same time, the Port of Portland (and other Ports at Longview, Kalama, Vancouver have to compete against other deepwater Ports with no such 90-mile inland transit -- Ports such as Los Angeles, Long Beach and Seattle. The question: How to make Columbia River ports more competitive. The answer: Deepen the Columbia River channel from 40 feet to 43 feet to allow deeper-draft ships to make the transit.


The deepening project made sense from an economic development standpoint, but it proved to be a challenge to get all financial participants -- the State of Oregon, the State of Washington and the federal government -- on the same page at the same time.


In the first session, CFM, with help from Port staff, conceived of an innovative idea to get the State of Oregon to buy in to a financing plan that would stretch over more than one two-year budget period. It was contract language in a specific bill that, in essence, committed the state to the project, even though it would have been possible for state to shelve the project later. To achieve this, CFM capitalized on its relationship with the co-chairs of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, as well as with the chair of the Economic Development Subcommittee. Early on, it was these three relationships that assured success for the project. Later, CFM worked with the Governor's Office and new leaders of the Joint Ways and Means Committee to assure approval of Oregon's full share of deepening costs.


Today, the deepening project is nearing completion and the new channel will play a key role in enabling the Port of Portland, as well as other ports along the river, to maintain their competitive venture in the marketplace. The successful venture also benefitted another CFM client -- the Columbia River Pilots – the group of professionals who pilot ships up and down the Columbia to several ports, including the Port of Portland.