Port helmsman navigates busy waters

By Mary Tatko of the Tribune

While shipping is one of the most visible of the Port of Lewiston’s functions, its manager says it’s only one method to achieve the primary mission of job creation

he subject of this month’s Business Profile doesn’t own a business. In fact, if you live in Nez Perce County, you are his boss.

As general manager of the Port of Lewiston, David Doeringsfeld is responsible not just for the shipment of cargo in and out of Lewiston, but for “enhancing the economic environment of Nez Perce County.”

His job is to help create more jobs. Or, as he put it, “It’s not just about barges.”

Business Profile: The word “port” calls to mind shipping containers, docks and, well, barges. What is the Port of Lewiston all about?

David Doeringsfeld: The port’s mission and responsibility, Doeringsfeld said, is job creation, achieved through efforts on three fronts: economic development, intermodal transportation and international trade.

“It’s like a three-legged stool,” he said, explaining if the port isn’t competitive in one of these areas, it hurts its ability to fulfill its mission.

BP: You list “economic development” first. Briefly, how is that achieved?

DD: Economic development, he explained, includes the port’s properties, business incubator buildings and business and technology parks. The port works with the economic development organization Valley Vision in what Doeringsfeld described as a “hunter-gatherer version of economic development” in which Valley Vision seeks businesses that might be a good fit for the valley, and the port “gets involved to promote sites or develop facilities” to help bring those businesses here.

BP: “Intermodal transportation” is a bit of a mouthful.

DD: Intermodal transportation, Doeringsfeld said, simply refers to the different modes of transportation available to port shippers, or “the three R’s” – river, rail and roads – and how those methods of transportation come together to facilitate business and industry through the port.

BP: The last area of focus, international trade, seems self-explanatory. What does that look like for you?

DD: International trade, he said, includes working with other entities such as Idaho’s departments of commerce and agriculture and the Idaho Grain Producers Association to sponsor and arrange trade delegations from throughout the world. “It’s interesting having the opportunity to meet delegations,” he said. “Learning about other cultures, kind of how they conduct business.”

BP: Jumping back to intermodal transportation, the “roads” portion took center stage in 2011 when ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil moved oversized loads of equipment from the Port of Lewiston over U.S. highways 12 and 95. Did the opposition to the megaloads surprise you?

DD: “I wasn’t surprised by the public opposition to it,” Doeringsfeld said. “I was, I guess, more surprised by the involvement of national environmental organizations in what I thought was a smaller local issue.

“Regarding the public opposition, I thought that more of an effort could have been made on public involvement and getting public information out regarding the project and what the impacts would be.”

When the public felt blindsided by the issue, he said, opposition was natural. Had there been more public outreach initiated by Imperial and the Idaho Transportation Department “up front long before” the loads were due to travel, public sentiment might have been different, he said.

BP: One concern expressed by opponents was that allowing the megaloads to travel local highways would be the start of a trend, resulting in increasing numbers of such loads. What level of traffic do you foresee in the coming months and years?

DD: “We are not currently working with any companies on transporting any oversized loads on Highway 95 or 12 in the near future,” Doeringsfeld said. If and when that does happen, “I don’t see it being (more than) three or four times a year.”

The large number of loads Imperial Oil proposed moving was unusual, he said. “A project of that size is really not indicative of what you’d normally see.

“Oversized cargos travel on Idaho highways all the time, throughout the year,” he said. “But this was a very large project.”

Had it been 15 loads, it probably wouldn’t have garnered much attention, he said. “With 200 loads ”

BP: Have the protests put a damper on future projects?

DD: Despite the opposition, Doeringsfeld said, the project paved the way for increased commerce, including jobs for the valley. “It opened opportunities for supplies to be moved,” he said. “Are there companies who are interested in this route now? There’s definitely interest in utilizing that route in the future.”

Future projects could include anything from wind turbines headed for Wyoming to equipment for lumber mills in Montana to components for projects in North Dakota.

“Activity fosters activity,” he said. “And there’s value-added that needs to occur.” The value-added, he said, is where local jobs can be created, when, for example, projects coming through the port for transportation over local highways need electrical or welding work.

And when the equipment is moving through accompanied by large crews, as with the Imperial Oil modules, it’s a boon, he said, for hotels, restaurants and any number of other local businesses.

BP: As you mentioned, property development is another of the port’s strategies for economic development. Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories will open a new manufacturing facility this year on land acquired from the port. Tell us about that.

DD: “We’re very excited,” Doeringsfeld said. “It was a good experience working with SEL, and it had a great outcome.”

The port’s role, he explained, included helping develop Nez Perce Terrace, a 183-acre planned-unit development spanning from Nez Perce Grade to Gun Club Road, including the site where Home Depot is located. Along with Bedrock LLC and McCann Limited Partnerships, “the port was integral in helping develop all of Nez Perce Terrace,” Doeringsfeld said. “With that group, it really opened up the commercial development that’s going on in that area.”

Then, in partnership with the city of Lewiston’s Urban Renewal Agency, the port helped develop infrastructure such as roads and utilities in its 45-acre business and technology park within Nez Perce Terrace, resulting in the ready-to-build site SEL purchased. About 18 acres of port-owned land remain in the development, he said, adjacent to the 25 acres sold to SEL.

BP: What are some other areas the port has developed?

DD: The Southport development, south of the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport, is home to an ATK-CCI/Speer manufacturing facility, Department of Juvenile Corrections facility and Bentz Boats, among others, Doeringsfeld said.

The Harry Wall Industrial Park, north of the port, includes the new Nez Perce County Jail, EKO compost facility and the city of Lewiston’s transfer station.

The port has business incubator buildings located in the Northport area, in north Lewiston near the port office. The incubator building program, with buildings located in Northport, including Seekins Precision Machine, Clearwater Canyon Cellars and Clearwater Converting.

BP: What is on the horizon for the Port of Lewiston?

DD: The port’s No. 1 project, Doeringsfeld said, is a proposed dock expansion, which would double the size of its container dock. It’s a move designed to allow the port to take advantage of opportunities he anticipates coming its way as the economy recovers.

“The national economy has hurt container shipping,” he said. But investing in the port while traffic is slow will mean it’s prepared for more business when things turn around. Expanding the dock now is a smart move, he said, rather than “trying to do it after the fact.”

Tatko may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2244.

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