A barge-eye view of the Columbia River Gorge and the beauty of dreams

By Sean Aaron Cruz

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams” –Eleanor Roosevelt*

September 18, 2012

Portland, Oregon—The Oregonian published a remarkable time-lapse video of a barge passing downriver from Lewiston to Kalama today, titled “GreatRiver of the West.”

The video is remarkable in that it documents the vast reaches of still water that the barge requires for passage.


There no passenger or excursion boats that make this journey, either upriver or down, so all of this water—and the Columbia Gorge itself—is held captive for the exclusive benefit of barges such as these.

These water levels are destructive to fish passage and fish habitat everywhere along the Columbia and Snake rivers upstream from the Bonneville dam.

These water levels exist as a multi-billion dollar public subsidy for the exclusive benefit of a single barge monopoly and a small number of increasingly foreign corporate interests. They want to barge coal through the Scenic Protection Area for export, arguing the supposed inevitability of market demand and, more specifically to those of us who live and work in or near the Columbia Gorge, job creation.

The Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports is running an intensive campaign built around the theme of “Creating NW Jobs”, touting the plusses of turning the Scenic Area into a coal chute.

They want to talk about the jobs they would create by bracketing the Scenic Protection Area with new coal terminals, and Ambre Energy of Australia has already signed contracts with Gunderson Marine in Portland to build the barges that will carry that coal.


So far, there is no countervailing argument in terms of job creation and economic development being put forward as to the long-term, strategic use of the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Protection Area.

The Alliance has posted its list of member organizations:

“Members of the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports include companies, labor, civic and other organizations who understand the importance of exports to our region and want to strengthen our trade economy. “

Members of the Alliance include:

Agrium Inc.

Ambre Energy North America, Inc.

American Council of Engineering Companies of Washington

Arch Coal

Association of Washington Business

Billings Chamber of Commerce/Convention and Visitors Bureau

BNSF Railway

Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Washington State Legislative Board

Cloud Peak Energy

Gunderson Marine

Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry

Idaho Chamber Alliance

JH Kelly

International Trade Alliance

Montana Chamber of Commerce

Montana Coal Council

Montana Contractors’ Association

Montana Rail Link, Inc.

National Association of Manufacturers

National Mining Association

OregonBuilding Trades Council

Pacific Merchant Shipping Association

Peabody Energy

Portland & Western Railroad, Inc.

SSA Marine


Union Pacific

United Transportation Union – MontanaState Legislative Board

United Transportation Union – OregonState Legislative Board

United Transportation Union – WashingtonState Legislative Board

Vigor Industrial

Washington Farm Bureau

Washington Farm Labor Association

Western Environmental Trade Association

Want to add your name to the list? Join us today!

All of these parties see the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Protection Area as a route, as a line on a map, as a mark in the corporate profit and loss statement.

What is missing from this public policy discussion is a view of the Scenic Protection Area as a place, unique to itself, and an evaluation of the economic development and job creation that would result if the Columbia River Gorge were so prioritized.

The American public might be in a mood to take a good hard look at the subsidies it dedicates to barging on the mid-Columbia, and the mission of the US Army Corps of Engineers related to navigation could be subject to review and change.

What would be possible in the Columbia Gorge were the barge subsidies to end?

What could we create there with this new prioritization?

These are good questions, well worthy of the broadest public discussion, and at the highest levels of governance.

There is a time to wait and a time to act, and the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports is acting right now.

Will the Columbia Gorge Scenic Protection Area be a place or a route?

Organize! Act! Believe in the beauty of your dreams!


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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