Lewiston port eyes new business

By ELAINE WILLIAMS of the Tribune

Idaho mining and wood products might be moving through the Port of Lewiston on their way to the Portland, Ore., area on the Snake and Columbia river system.

Clients in those industries have been in contact with the port. But Lewiston Port Manager David Doeringsfeld said it’s too early to discuss details such as who they are, what or how much they would ship and when the cargo would be leaving.

The possibility of mining and forest product activity was discussed Wednesday at a Port of Lewiston meeting where commissioners passed a new marketing plan.

If that business materializes, it will help the port meet one of the goals in the plan. The strategy is to support job creation in Nez Perce County through objectives such as expanding the amount of break-bulk cargo to an unspecified level, and increasing container volume by 10 percent between now and December 2015.

Break-bulk cargo could include megaloads, oversized loads that later travel on the region’s highways, or anything not shipped in a container. Doeringsfeld said the port is especially interested in companies that would bring items to the port that need additional work, such as welding or fabrication, so local workers would benefit.

“They might decide it’s cheaper to manufacture a portion of that product right here,” said Port Commission President Mary Hasenoehrl.

Other efforts underway so far include working with the Port of Vancouver, Wash., which has opened an office in Williston, a key city in the North Dakota oil industry. The Port of Vancouver handled megaloads when they arrived from overseas before they came to Lewiston.

The port’s plan acknowledges that shippers would need to be alerted to a court injunction that, at least for now, bans megaload shipments from a 100-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 12. It was imposed after the Nez Perce Tribe and environmental groups went to court in opposition of the super-large shipments destined for the Canadian oil sands.

As the port tries to diversify, it also wants to bolster container cargo, which has traditionally been a significant source of revenue. But it has fallen from a high of 17,611 containers in 1997 to 4,439 containers in 2013.

Shippers moving goods like paperboard, dried peas, lentils and garbanzo beans are increasingly using Puget Sound ports. The Port of Portland has been challenged by organized labor issues. Additionally, reaching Portland can be difficult since it’s about 100 miles for ships traveling from the Pacific Ocean.

The plan doesn’t identify who the port will target in its efforts.

Also Wednesday, commissioners reviewed a report by University of Idaho economist Steve Peterson on the economic influence of the port. Many of the document’s key findings were shared at a presentation Peterson gave in late September.

Among them are that manufacturing in Nez Perce, Asotin, Latah and Whitman counties has risen at a time when that sector has declined nationally. Peterson attributes some of its strength to ports developing land for factories.

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