Local businesses may see higher export costs, Lewiston Tribune, April 7, 2015

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

Hapag-Lloyd, which handles 90 percent of Port of Lewiston containers, may be pulling out

By ELAINE WILLIAMS of the Tribune

Brocke and Sons in Kendrick is bracing to spend 20 percent more on export shipping as it faces the possibility that Hapag-Lloyd will no longer call on the Port of Portland.

A spokesman for the Oregon port confirmed Monday that Hapag-Lloyd is not on the schedule. Hapag-Lloyd handles more than 90 percent of the containers that move through the Port of Lewiston. Brocke and Sons is one of the largest users of the service.

Lewiston port officials have been worried for weeks about what Hapag-Lloyd might do. Port of Portland spokesman Steve Johnson said Hapag-Lloyd has not provided his employer with any indication about what its long-term plans are. Attempts Monday to get comment from Hapag-Lloyd were not successful.

Brocke and Sons is one of the businesses that will lose if Hapag-Lloyd permanently withdraws from the Port of Portland. The dried pea, lentil and garbanzo bean processor employs about 40 in Kendrick and will end up with lower profit margins as it sends it products by truck or train to be loaded onto ships in the Puget Sound area.

“We can’t do any more bookings for Lewiston right now,” said Vice President Bert Brocke. “It’s hard.”

Brocke said “I hope not,” when asked about the possibility of layoffs.

What will happen at the Port of Lewiston isn’t clear. Manager David Doeringsfeld said a Hapag-Lloyd departure would be a “huge blow,” leaving the Port of Portland with only one shipper handling containers. The Port of Lewiston’s container yard employs four, but Doeringsfeld declined to comment more until a noon port commission meeting Wednesday.

The situation at the Port of Lewiston’s container yard has been worsening for years and suffered two significant setbacks in recent months. About five years ago, the number of containers moved annually at the port dipped below 5,000 and hasn’t rebounded. That compares with a high in the mid-1990s of more than 15,000.

Much of what has happened at the Port of Lewiston has been outside of its control.

Congestion at West Coast ports, including the Port of Portland, hit historic highs during a recent labor negotiation where a tentative agreement was reached in late February.

Then Hanjin stopped calling on the Port of Portland in March, leaving the Port of Portland without its largest container carrier.

The reasons for the issues aren’t clear. Johnson declined to comment about why Hapag-Lloyd might be leaving.

“We lost Hanjin because of their inability to receive schedule reliability,” Johnson said. “That was related to the level of labor productivity at the terminal.”

Labor officials didn’t respond Monday to a request for comment.

The Port of Portland continues to be in conversations aimed at getting Hanjin to return, Hapag-Lloyd to stay and other container shippers to add it to their rosters, Johnson said.

The other important player in the equation, ICTSI Oregon, offered no explanation and referred questions to Hapag-Lloyd. ICTSI has a 25-year contract that started in 2011 with the Port of Portland to operate its container terminal.

The situation with containers at the Port of Lewiston doesn’t affect bulk grain. The volume of bulk grain moving through the Port of Lewiston at the Lewis-Clark Terminal is higher and was in excess of 600,000 tons in 2014. The Lewis-Clark Terminal is owned by agricultural cooperatives that operate in the region.

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