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Saturday, September 24, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Hurricane costs jeopardize funding for Ballard Locks

Seattle Times staff reporter

Full funding for the Ballard Locks once again is in peril as Congress scours pending budgets for money to pay for hurricane disaster relief.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., was successful last June in adding $2.1 million to the proposed 2005-06 budget, which would return funding for the Lake Washington Ship Canal to last year's levels. Local officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the additional money would be vital to keep the Locks operating around the clock.

Without it, the Locks would operate as few as 10 hours a day during fall and winter.

The House version of the budget, however, still reflects the White House budget proposal that cut funding for the Ship Canal by about 40 percent. Murray had hoped to reconcile the difference in conference committee.

But Alex Glass, Murray's press secretary, said the money needed to rebuild the battered Gulf Coast is shining a new light on all appropriations for local projects.

"Congress will be looking at some trims, and when an appropriation is only in the Senate budget and not in the House version, it's more likely to get trimmed," Glass said.

A top Army civil-works official toured the Ship Canal in June and concluded that the president's budget figure, which was derived from a formula, did not fairly take into account the economic impact the waterway has on Seattle, the Pacific Northwest and the nation.

Steve Downey, an advocate for the Ballard Locks, is imploring others with an interest in keeping the Locks open 24/7 to write members of the state's congressional delegation and ask them to stress to their colleagues the importance of full funding.

Downey said an additional $2.1 million for the Locks is invaluable for the area's economy and maritime industry, yet is not a lot of money in the grand scheme of federal appropriations.

"There is a lot more significant pork that can be cut from the budget," he said. "We're not asking for extra bells and whistles here. We just want a continuation of funds that were cut by mistake in the first place."

Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or seskenazi@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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