Port of Lewiston is getting its fiber

Phone calls and Internet usage might not have been disrupted following a Lewiston dump truck accident two weeks ago if a different route had been available to carry those transmissions.

A 14-mile, fiber-optic network that the Port of Lewiston is pursuing will make a backup system available to telecommunications providers at an affordable price, said Port of Whitman County Executive Director Joe Poire.

Poire spoke with Lewiston port commissioners Tuesday to sort through how the two ports can collaborate on the project, which the Port of Lewiston has been contemplating for more than a year. The Port of Lewiston is looking to spend about $800,000 on about 10 miles of line and other infrastructure.

“It’s something we definitely need here in the valley,” said Port of Lewiston Commission President Mary Hasenoehrl.

The line would serve Clearwater Paper, Idaho Forest Group, St. Joseph Regional Medical Center, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, Lewis-Clark State College and the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport, as well as some Howell Machine and ATK operations.

ATK’s main complex at the base of the Southway Bridge is not on the route in the first phase, but Poire said that doesn’t mean it won’t benefit. After the initial rollout, customers can propose additions and the port can decide which ones to take on based on demand.

“You’ve got to build enough roads so the guy can drive into the city,” Poire said.

The reason the Port of Whitman County is involved in the project is because it built the infrastructure that makes the upgrade possible. It owns a fiber-optic network that serves the most heavily populated parts of its jurisdiction.

“We’ve had one outage in four years,” Poire said.

The Port of Lewiston would connect with a leg that now serves Clarkston. The Port of Whitman County would build an extension that would start at the north end of the Red Wolf Crossing Bridge and run to the north side of Memorial Bridge in Lewiston.

Poire said the line would be useful to the Port of Whitman County, too, because it would create a loop between Clarkston, Lewiston, Moscow and Pullman – something that would improve the redundancy of its system.

If the Port of Lewiston proceeds, it would follow a model similar to the Port of Whitman County and lease the fiber-optic network to businesses that sell products such as Internet and cellphone service.

Those agreements can be lucrative, Poire said. The Port of Whitman County, for instance, generates $250,000 per year just from the Pullman area.

Exactly how long it will take to construct the upgrades isn’t clear. One of the next steps is to get permission from the city of Lewiston to use right of ways.

The Port of Whitman County and the Port of Lewiston also need to figure out what kind of agreement they need for the section of line between the Washington state line and Memorial Bridge.

At the same time, port commissioners want to be sure user agreements are structured such that the port won’t have liability if an outage prevents a business from accomplishing a task.

In other business Tuesday, Port of Lewiston Manager David Doeringsfeld said it is too soon to say what effect Clearwater Paper’s plan to construct more warehouse space in East Lewiston will have on a Port of Lewiston warehouse.

The additional room will allow Clearwater Paper to ship more paperboard directly from the East Lewiston mill, instead of taking it to the 150,000-square-foot port warehouse. The facility is the port’s largest building and a significant revenue source.

Private firm Inland 465 Limited Partnership runs the warehouse. Inland 465 began a 10-year agreement with the port in 2013 that increased the rent from $216,000 to $250,000 a year and had additional raises to almost $300,000 annually in the final years. The base fees are in addition to profit-sharing payments that equal 15 percent of gross revenue between $1 million and $1.35 million.

Williams may be contacted at ewilliam@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2261.