Port of Lewiston will see some shipments resume in the first part of Decemer in bid to ease congestion
Containers will soon leave the Port of Lewiston bound for Puget Sound using a combination of water and rail transportation as part of a plan to relieve congestion and get exports to Washington’s west side.
Northwest Container Services and transport company Tidewater will initiate the new route during the first week of December, Port of Lewiston Manager David Doeringsfeld said at a Wednesday port commission meeting.
It will be the first time containers have originated at the Port of Lewiston in more than six months after overseas steamship lines stopped calling on the Port of Portland. The Oregon port was the destination for the vast majority of cargo leaving Idaho’s only seaport.
Customers will bring filled containers to the Port of Lewiston – which mostly handles dried peas and lentils – under the plan. Those containers will go by barge to the Port of Morrow at Boardman, Ore., where they’ll be shifted to rail for the second leg of the journey to Puget Sound. Once they’re in western Washington, they’ll be transferred to ocean-going ships, just as they would have been had they been routed through the Port of Portland.
“Just having another option is going to be tremendously helpful,” Doeringsfeld said. “There aren’t enough trucks to get product to the Puget Sound in a timely manner.”
The service is starting on a small scale, with only 18 to 20 containers making the trip every other week. That compares to the 80 to 100 containers that used to be put on barges at the Port of Lewiston four times a month.
The biggest constraint on the new system is that fully loaded containers are so heavy they have to travel on a special type of rail car bed. So far, Doeringsfeld said Northwest Container Services doesn’t have that many of the special cars available.
The hope is the service will eventually move about the same number of containers as the port did when products were moving through Portland.
But even on a limited basis, Doeringsfeld said the service has a huge benefit. He said one customer, a Spokane exporter, bought all the containers for the first trip.
The cost is expected to be just a little less than if the same cargo moved by truck. It also enables users to reduce the handling of their goods, and Doeringsfeld said the product will be loaded in Lewiston and not touched again until it arrives overseas. Goods that are trucked to Puget Sound have to be reloaded into containers before they can be put on barges.
Eventually, the Port of Lewiston hopes container service will return to Portland, but that could take as long as a year. Doeringsfeld said talks are underway with steamship lines that are “looking for some assurances” about how well union labor and management will get along, as well as about the volume of containers that will be handled every hour.
What Northwest Container Service, Tidewater and the ports have put together “keeps cargo on the river,” Doeringsfeld said. “It’s a stop-gap measure.”
Williams may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2261.