From dam improvements to mass transit, feds pay

GRANTS PASS — Oregon's share of the federal spending bill signed into law this week amounts to $250 million, which will fund agriculture, health care, community colleges, transportation projects, dredging projects up and down the coast and salmon-friendly dam improvements in the Columbia River.

The big ticket items were focused on the Columbia River and Portland, where $83 million is going to improvements to help salmon survive their passage over hydroelectric dams, $82 million to extend the MAX light rail train system from downtown Portland to Clackamas Center, and $45 million to extend streetcar service from downtown Portland to outlying areas.

"With this bill we have a government spending package that reflects the priorities of Oregonians," Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., said in a statement.

An analysis by the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense indicates Oregon will receive $75 million for 120 projects, and share $177 million with Washington for 13 projects in the Columbia River, primarily for dam improvements and ship channel dredging.

The Army Corps of Engineers was a major recipient in the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009, getting $9 million for operation and maintenance of the Bonneville Dam and locks, $20 million for maintenance dredging in the Columbia and Lower Willamette rivers, and $14 million for dredging at the mouth of the Columbia.

Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, criticized the appropriations process commonly known as earmarks, saying despite reforms it still rewarded politically powerful members of Congress, rather than the projects with the most merit.

He said Oregon no longer has the power it had when Sen. Mark Hatfield was chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and now ranks 39th overall, and 32nd per capita.

Blumenauer countered that reforms have removed the corruption and abuses of the past.

"Democratic leadership has taken strong measures to counter abuses by demanding unprecedented levels of public oversight and funding only the most worthy projects," he said. "I also know how important earmarks are to local communities throughout Oregon."

The spending package included $2 million to buy 97 acres of land for the Columbia Gorge Scenic Area, $640,000 for research into a parasite killing salmon in the Klamath River, $140,000 to pay for organic crop research at Oregon State University, and $3 million toward removal of Savage Rapids Dam on the Rogue River near Grants Pass.

There is $333,000 for a nursing program at Lane Community College, $285,000 for curriculum development at Blue Mountain Community College in Hermiston, and $381,000 for Clackamas Community College to help returning Oregon National Guard veterans.

Cascade AIDS in Portland gets $190,000 for HIV/AIDS outreach, Providence Health Care System in Portland $190,000 for a multiple sclerosis registry, and Blue Mountain Diagnostic Imaging in Pendleton $95,000 for imaging equipment.

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