Will coal barges clog the Columbia River or will Celilo Falls be recovered?

Portland, Oregon— In an article asking the question “Will coal barges clog the Columbia River?” The Oregonian published an economic analysis purporting to include all of the major interests, but woefully ignorant of the issue of Celilo Falls.

The real question is which use shall win out, the Columbia Gorge as an industrial corridor, or the Columbia Gorge with Celilo Falls restored. That is the real, long-term public policy question, just as the Beach Bill was in the 1960’s.

Read the analysis here:


There is very little in this deal for Oregon and Washington residents and nothing at all for those who live and work in the Columbia Gorge.

There is also nothing in the economic analysis that factors in the massive public subsidies that support barge traffic in the Gorge. There are no market factors at work here at all.

The public subsidizes the barges in three ways:

First, the public pays 100% of the expense of lock maintenance and operation. Barge operators pay no fees to use the locks, and if they did, they could not compete with rail.

The fiscal analysis should include the immense public investment required to save a handful of shippers a few bucks.

Second, all water levels upriver from Bonneville Dam are optimized for barge traffic, to the detriment of the salmon.

The fiscal analysis should include some significant portion of the hundreds of millions of dollars a year the public invests in fish recovery efforts to remediate for the passage of the barges.

Third, there is the question of Celilo Falls, submerged in order to facilitate barge passage through the Gorge, and the completely sustainable, salmon-based economy it would generate, creating many hundreds of family wage jobs for the people that actually live in the Gorge.

While most believe that Celilo Falls are gone forever, or that the dam at The Dalles must come down before this natural, cultural, economic and spiritual wonder of the world can be restored, that belief is mistaken.

The flooding of Celilo Falls has nothing to do with hydropower generation. The two can coexist. The entire use issue is about the barges vs the falls.

The fiscal analysis should include the jobs that would be created were Celilo Falls restored, which would make the city of The Dalles the staging area for one of the greatest tourism attractions to be found anywhere in the world. This is where the big hotels will come in.

The fiscal analysis should include the construction and infrastructure jobs, and the excursion rail cars that will be build in Portland.

Most people have never seen Celilo Falls other than in still photographs, but that is changing right now, and about to become worldwide, viral:

Celilo Falls, Army Corps of Engineers 1956


And, consider this: The Friends of Celilo Falls is forming, and will call for the restoration of Celilo Falls under the permanent stewardship of the Columbia River Treaty tribes, and the creation of the Celilo-Wishram-Maryhill UNESCO World Heritage District.

That potential ought to be included in the analysis as well.



About 1000nations

Sean Aaron Cruz is Executive Director of 1000 Nations and a co-founder of The Friends of Celilo Falls. He is the organizer of the Jim Pepper Native Arts Festival. He is co-author of Winona LaDuke's new book, "The Militarization of Indian Country." He is the father of four children who disappeared into Utah in a Mormon abduction in 1996, and the author of Oregon's landmark anti-kidnapping statute "Aaron's Law" (Senate Bill 1041), named for his late son Aaron Cruz. He writes online as Blogolitical Sean.
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