OPEN THE COLUMBIA TO THE SEA
By Lee B. Reeder
This article was prepared in 1902 for a magazine edition of the Pendleton Daily Tribune published by E. P. Dodd. Author Lee B. Reeder was a lawyer in Pendleton and at that time was Speaker of Oregon’s House of Representatives.
The 350,000 people of that vast area of territory known as the Inland Empire which is drained by the Columbia river and its tributaries are much interested in having the river opened to navigation, so that the stream from its mouth to its source may be used as a way for carrying the enormous productions of this region to tide water. The territory east of the Cascade mountains, embracing an area of 12,000 square miles is equal to the combined areas of all the New England states including also New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland, and is easily capable of supporting a population of 10,000,000. The greater part of Eastern Oregon, Eastern and Southern Washington, Idaho, and a part of British Columbia form this empire, which at the present time is rich in the productions of grain, livestock, vegatables [sic], and ores, and its possibilities are beyond the mind of man to comprehend. The students of the economic possibilities of this large and productive territory cannot fail to appreciate also the economic Possibilities of the Columbia river open to navigation. To accomplish for the people of this territory what has been accomplished for the population at and adjacent to The Dalles, in the way of reduction of freight rates by the construction of the Cascade canal and locks, would mean millions of dollars saved each year to the producers of the Inland Empire. It would save to Umatilla county alone about $200,000 per annum: This would amount to about $l0 for every man, woman and child in the county. Umatilla county produces each year about 5,000,000 bushels of wheat for export, besides a large amount of fruits, vegetables, live stock, and the production of cereals for export in the grain belt of the Inland Empire is conservatively estimated to be over 25,000,000 bushels per annum. Add to this the shipments of fruits, vegetables, live stock and mineral ores, and some idea will be gained of the present enormous tonnage of products shipped from this territory. A reduction of freight rates at least one-fifth would inevitably follow the opening of the Columbia to navigation, would not only save the producers a very large amount of money, but would considerably increase the population and bring into cultivation hundreds of thousands of acres of vacant lands, and correspondingly increase the importance of our coast and river cities in their commercial standing.
In the matter of freight and passenger rates there is no factor so forceful to lower and keep them within reason as water ways in competition with railways. Many illustrations could be made showing what an advantage points having such competition have over other points, of otherwise equal advantages. The value of the great lakes and rivers that gives to Chicago an outlet of water is inestimable, and made it possible for a point so far from the seaboard to become the railroad center, and one of the principal cities of the world. The cities along the Mississippi river afford examples of the value of water competition, and if the Mississippi flowed east into the Atlantic and paralleled the railroads, its value for the transportation of freights would be incalculable. Even the great artificial river, the Erie Canal, built in a time of dire necessity, has steadily maintained its importance as a way of freights and has in a measure been the regulator of freight rates. The Columbia river, running parallel with the railroads, if opened to navigation would be the governor of transportation rates for the whole territory of the Inland Empire, and the producers would be the principal recipients of the benefits. The reports of Captain Charles F. Powell in l882 to the chief of engineers, said: "The Columbia is the great river of the Pacific coast. In volume and commercial value it is second only to the Mississippi. Its banks are more stable, its waters are clearer, its ice blockades are much less in duration than the great waterway of the East. Unlike the Mississippi, the Columbia seeks the ocean in a line parallel to trade channels and not at right angles to them." The course of the Columbia and its tributaries are the best route of trade, there being the least resistance to overcome. All other routes to the Pacific ocean from the Inland Empire, must be in some way scale the heights of the Cascade range, while the Columbia affords "the one natural pass" through the range of mountains which extends 600 miles north and south of it. The grade along the river being so favorable to both cheapness of construction and operation of railroads would produce a result marvelous both as to efficiency of service and scale of rates.
The Columbia river is already open to navigation from its mouth to The Dalles, a distance of 190 miles, and the example furnished by this stretch of the river on which boats run regularly ought to be sufficient to convince anyone of the great value to the producers of the Inland Empire that would accrue by removing the obstructions to navigation above The Dalles. Between The Dalles and Celilo is an obstructed distance of 13 miles, and from Celilo up stream to Priest Rapids, a distance of 198 miles, the river is open to navigation. The construction of a canal and locks so that boats could pass between Celilo and The Dalles and the removal of some slight boulder obstructions between the mouth of Snake river and Riparia, would open the Columbia and Snake so that the great bulk of the products of the Inland Empire would come within the influence of water transportation. It would cover all of the Oregon territory, the Walla Walla and a large portion of the Big Bend sections, and the whole of the Lewiston section in Washington and Idaho. Formerly the Columbia and Snake rivers were navigated from Celilo to Lewiston, and with but a small expenditure these portions of these rivers could be kept open to navigation at all seasons of the year, except when blocked by ice which seldom lasts longer than a few days and many winters pass without this occurring at all. The advent of the railroad paralleling the river has put a stop to navigation between Lewiston and Celilo, but if the obstructions were removed there would be such a revival of river traffic that would bring the results so much desired. The cost of transporting freights around the obstructions at Celilo doubles the cost of carrying and makes it easily within the power of railroads to maintain an extremely high tariff on freights and still destroy river navigation. The removal of the obstructions between The Dalles and Celilo would give us an open river for a distance of 401 miles and a navigable stretch of 140 miles in the Snake. From the foot to the head of Priest Rapids the Columbia is obstructed for a distance of ll ˝ miles, and from there to Wenatchee, a distance of 57 miles, the river is navigable under favorable conditions to the international boundary line a distance of 7 miles through a country rich in minerals and timber.. From the mouth of the Okanogan river the Columbia is navigable at great risk a distance of 109 miles to Spokane Rapids, and from this point for 56 miles up stream to Rickey Rapids the river is navigable. Rickey Rapids is an obstruction of but small moment, and were they opened the river would be navigable to Kettle Falls 4 ˝ miles further up stream. Here we encounter an obstruction that would require locks, but from and above this point we have an open river a distance of 250 miles to Arrowhead Landing in British Columbia. There is at present in the main stream of the Columbia 756 miles of navigable water, 109 miles navigable at great risk and only 35 miles of obstructions. The river for a distance of 8lO ˝ miles could be opened to navigation by the construction of not to exceed 20 miles of canal with proper locks and the removal of some scattering rock obstructions in the Okanogan and Snake rivers, we would have above The Dalles navigable water for 847 ˝ miles, reaching all the productive sections drained by these rivers. The one great obstruction is that between The Dalles and Celilo, and how to overcome the difficulty is a question about which many differ. All are agreed, however, that the one right and everlasting way to overcome the obstruction is a canal and locks, but this requires the expenditure of several million of dollars, and many for this reason advocate the expediency of a portage railway. This sort of a railway would cost as estimated, about $2,250,000, and then would be of doubtful utility as a permanent improvement. The canal and locks would cost much more, yet they would be cheaper in the end, the improvement would be of permanent value and would save the people in the course of a decade probably many times the cost. If this project were undertaken at once and pushed under the contract system it is believed possible that the visitors to the Lewis and Clark Exposition in 1905 would have the opportunity to ride by boat upon the silvery waters of the Columbia from its mouth to the foot of Priest Rapids, a distance of 400 miles.
To secure the opening of the Columbia to navigation is one of great questions agitating the minds of the inhabitants of the Inland Empire as well as those who live within reach of the river West of the Cascade mountains. Federal aid must be secured. Congress has heretofore appropriated large sums of money for the removal [of] obstructions and improvement of the river, and will no doubt in time appropriate much more for these purposes, if the importance thereof is properly and truthfully presented. But why the delay? The writer is driven to the belief that one very strong reason why action is delayed, is the apparent discord and contention between the people who live at or near the mouth of the river, those of Portland and vicinity and those of the Inland Empire. It has been contended by the Astoria people that the only part of the river that should be improved by federal appropriations is the mouth as far up as Tongue’s Point so that ocean going vessels could find safe anchorage and landing in Astoria harbor. The people of Portland, until recently, have contended that the principal part of the river calling for federal aid is not only the mouth but the channel of the river from the mouth to the Willamette river. The reason for this discord is apparent. Portland wants to retain and increase her ocean traffic, while Astoria desires that all: inland products for foreign shipment be taken to that city to be transferred to the ocean going vessels. The people of the Inland Empire insist that a reasonable proportion of the federal appropriations granted, be expended toward overcoming the obstructions to navigation above The Dalles, that the whole river as far as practicable be opened, and that Portland and Astoria be allowed, and they should be willing to fight for supremacy upon the basis of the best facilities possible for carrying the products of the producers. Portland has now awakened to a realization that her future greatness depends upon the development of the Inland Empire; that with the Columbia river opened to navigation into the producing fields of Oregon, Washington and Idaho she will always have an advantage and maintain the supremacy over the cities of Puget Sound, but without the open river the struggle will be more bitter and she at less advantage. And the people of Astoria, if they will recognize the true principles of business and commerce and acting upon them instead of playing the role of real estate dealers, will understand that they too will be greatly benefitted [sic] by the open river. In the further successful development of this western country it is imperative that the Columbia be opened, and it is now time to put aside petty jealousies and local quarrels and unite in one grand persistent effort to this end, the accomplishment of which will bring its reward a hundredfold in material, social and educational advancement; and then "where rolls the Oregon," will also be the roll and hum of wheels of many mills and factories; and increased population intent on the pursuit of their vocations, enjoying just returns for their labors; happy in health, peace and plenty.