Official hints at possible return of container traffic, Lewiston Tribune, June 11, 2015

[vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=””][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]By ELAINE WILLIAMS of the Tribune

One small-scale carrier is scheduled to call on the Port of Portland once in July, providing a glimmer of hope that container operations might resume on the Snake and Columbia river system.

Westwood Shipping has announced the plans, and the Port of Portland in Oregon is hoping service it receives will keep the company coming back, said Sebastian Degens, general manager of marine and terminal business development at the port.

Degens visited Lewiston Wednesday and spoke at the Port of Lewiston commission meeting. He also met with container shippers in the Lewiston area.

“We’re determined to be successful in rebuilding that service,” Degens said.

Westwood was the smallest of three container carriers that called on Portland in the past year. All of them suspended service. Those decisions shut down container operations at the Port of Lewiston, which mostly handled dried peas and lentils.

The carrier departures followed a protracted dispute between union labor and ICTSI Oregon, the private company that has roughly 20 years left on a 25-year contract to operate the Port of Portland’s container terminal. That conflict has been blamed for slow handling of containers at the Port of Portland.

While Westwood’s return is welcomed by the Port of Portland, it doesn’t mean the situation is back to normal. Each of its ships can only carry about 220 containers, compared with the 800 to 1,000 that go on larger vessels, Degens said.

In addition, Westwood will receive an incentive of $50 per loaded container from the Port of Portland. Degens said ICTSI has kept all its employees on staff and is doing training so it’s prepared when container traffic resumes.

“The relationship (with labor) is improving, but it’s fragile,” he said.

Representatives of ICTSI and union labor weren’t at the meeting.

The Port of Portland once operated the terminal, but struggled with the capital requirements of the business and became one of the last ports to transfer its duties to the private sector, Degens said.

Given the continuing uncertainty, the Port of Portland is looking into other possibilities to bridge the gap until container shipping is back on track. Degens said containers might be barged from Lewiston or other places upriver to Boardman, Ore., where they could enter Portland by rail and be transferred to trucks in Portland for a short trip to the Port of Portland.

If a container carrier wasn’t available in Portland, the containers could go to the Puget Sound ports by rail, Degens said.

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