Hauling in profits

Work on megaloads at Port of Lewiston is putting money in pockets of local businesses, workers

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune
May 22, 2011
A cluster of trees shading a rare patch of grass at the Port of Lewiston turned into a makeshift lunchroom on a recent weekday when a truck from Tacos Cecy made its regular stop.

Men and women still wearing hard hats and yellow safety vests balanced paper plates and Styrofoam containers on their laps as they dug into their burritos with plastic forks. Some basked in the sun using the railroad tracks for seats while others rested their backs against tree trunks.

The activity represents just a sliver of the money that work on megaloads is bringing to the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. A crew of more than 300 people, mostly from out of town, has been assembled to convert 33 pieces of Korean-made equipment for a Canadian oil-processing plant into 60 so they will be shorter for their highway travel across Idaho.

The height reduction will make it possible for them to get to Montana via U.S. Highway 95 and Interstate 90, where they will encounter overpasses. It provides an alternate roadway to U.S. Highway 12, the route Imperial Oil originally wanted to take until opposition delayed their departure.

A huge portion of the half-a-million dollars it costs to modify each module is ending up in the hands of entrepreneurs in north central Idaho and southeastern Washington businesses, according to more than 10 business owners and managers interviewed for this story.

Dozens of businesses have benefited, ranging from those that sell goods or services for fabrication and construction to ones that meet the needs of workers for food, shelter and even recreation, said David Doeringsfeld, manager of the Port of Lewiston.

Wackenhut, a business contracted to provide security, hired 18 local people. The temporary buildings in the port’s container yard include no sleeping quarters, which means every worker is renting a hotel room, residence or camper spot, Doeringsfeld said. “It looks like a city, but that’s all offices.”

Kiewit, a contractor in charge of resizing the processing plant components, is using man-lifts from United Rental, said Bernie Schneider, branch manager of the business in Lewiston.

Kiewit appears to be very safety conscious since it’s opting for man-lifts instead of harnesses and straps, Schneider said.

“They don’t spare much expense,” Schneider said. “When they need something, they get it local. They don’t ship it in from somewhere else. … I’ve lost deals because I couldn’t have it to them in an hour.”

Crea Construction, an earth-moving contractor in Lewiston, flattened and graveled an eight-acre lot at the Port of Lewiston at Kiewit’s expense.

The job employed a dozen people for two weeks, said Karl Crea, the owner. “Our current economic conditions aren’t very good and work is very hard to come by.”

Atlas Sand and Rock supplied the gravel for that work as well as improvements made to turnouts on U.S. 12, said Brad Hauser, manager of the business in Lewiston. “It’s just been wonderful. It’s put our people to work.”

Cannon Building Supply has been getting orders for certain types of lumber and plywood every two weeks, said owner Brad Cannon. “They’ve helped us through some rocky times in the winter so it’s been good.”

Megaload crews are stopping at Kenworth Sales in Lewiston to receive repairs on trucks and replace parts, said Pat Fidler, manager of the business.

He estimates Kenworth has gained a couple percentage points in revenue from it. “They’re spending quite a bit of money here.”

Hahn Rental Center is providing 25 to 30 portable toilets to the site that rent for $78 for four weeks, counting service every seven days, said general manager Larry Bean. “That’s fairly significant.”

When the crews aren’t working, at least a portion of their paychecks are pouring into the community, Hauser said. “They’re supporting all the local mercantile, whether it’s going to get their hair cut or buying another pair of boots.”

Granite Lake Premiere RV Resort and Hells Canyon Resort, both in Clarkston, are two places where crew members stay.

“Most of them I have are mature workers,” said Jackie King, manager of Granite Lake. “I have a couple of them here with wives. They fit in really well.”

Jock Pring, owner of Hells Canynon Resort, hasn’t seen as many of the workers at Motel 6, another property he owns, and he speculates it’s because they’re gravitating toward places with complimentary breakfasts. “It’s good. Any business is great.”

The number of men staying in trailers has created a steady stream of customers at Camp, Cabin and Home, which is less than a mile from the work site, said Jeff VanTassel, manager of the store.

Fishing tackle and propane are among the items they purchase, VanTassel said. “They’re replacing parts that are broken or buying accessories to add to what they’ve got.”

A couple of blocks away from Camp, Cabin and Home, sales at the Lunch Box Deli have skyrocketed by as much as 30 percent, said Pat Hohnstein, who owns the breakfast and lunch spot with his wife. “Several of the guys are from Texas, so they thought they were home because of the food. They just picked right up on the barbecue.”

What the volume of megaload commerce will be in the future is not clear and depends on a number of variables, including if companies continue to seek out U.S. 12 for megaloads.

So far five megaloads have used the highway this year and more than half encountered delays because of weather and other challenges. Four of the five megaloads were hauling drum halves to a ConocoPhillips’ refinery in Billings, Mont.

And while a significant amount of work was done to the drum halves after they arrived in Lewiston, it didn’t begin to approach the volume of modifications happening to the Imperial Oil modules already at the port.

The Idaho Transportation Department can grant or deny permission for any megaload to travel on the state’s highways. Imperial Oil wants to haul more than 100 megaloads on U.S. 12, in addition to those already in Lewiston.

That plan, however, is on hold because opponents were granted a hearing on the matter with ITD and a recommendation from that proceeding has yet to be issued.

“For now,” Schneider said, “it’s a step in the right direction of using our port system.”

Williams may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2261.