Port is dealt another blow
By ELAINE WILLIAMS of the Tribune, Feb. 12, 2015
The Port of Lewiston’s container cargo operations have suffered another setback.
Hanjin Shipping plans to withdraw direct service March 9 from the Port of Portland in Oregon.
The company’s move likely means the Port of Lewiston will be handling fewer containers and translates into more transportation expenses for manufacturer Clearwater Paper.
“It was a surprise to the Port of Lewiston and its customers,” Port Manager David Doeringsfeld said, while noting that Hanjin handles less than 10 percent of the containers that leave Lewiston. “It’s obviously an important development. We’re waiting to see how this plays out.”
The announcement is the latest in a series of challenges the port has faced. Last year, container volumes fell to their worst level in more than two decades. The port moved 3,240 containers, compared with a high of 17,611 in 1997.
Hanjin has not been happy with the pace of work among longshoremen at the Port of Portland terminal that handles shipping containers. It announced last year it would be reviewing the Port of Portland’s performance quarterly. Complicating the situation even more in recent months has been a slowdown at West Coast ports as the longshoremen negotiate a new contract.
The contracted operator of the Portland terminal, ICTSI Oregon, blamed the union Wednesday in a news release for Hanjin’s decision. Attempts Wednesday by the Tribune to reach union officials were not successful.
ICTSI Oregon “will aggressively pursue new direct service” to Asia and other destinations, according to the news release. “We remain as committed as ever to operating a world-class terminal.”
Clearwater Paper, Lewiston’s largest employer, is among the businesses that hopes ICTSI is successful in its recruiting efforts.
“We hope they return to serving the Port of Portland soon,” said Clearwater Paper spokesman Matt Van Vleet. “Hanjin has discontinued serving the Port of Portland in the past, and they have eventually returned. We hope they return again.”
Clearwater Paper can send the paperboard it was barging from Lewiston to Hanjin in Portland through the Port of Seattle or the Port of Tacoma, but going through the Port of Portland is better in terms of cost and efficiency, Van Vleet said.
Its tissue products such as toilet paper and paper napkins are not moved on the river or overseas.
But river cargo transportation remains important to Clearwater Paper regardless of what happens with containers, Van Vleet said. The company also ships sawdust and chips from Columbia City, Ore., to the Port of Wilma.
“The availability of sawdust (and chips) in that part of Oregon and Washington is significant,” he said. “It really helps us maintain competitiveness with other mills across the country.”
Similarly, containers aren’t the only way goods leave the Port of Lewiston. Bulk grain shipments from the Lewis-Clark Terminal represent a significantly larger share of the cargo, Doeringsfeld said. About 230 bulk grain barges left the Port of Lewiston last year, compared with about 50 container barges.
Williams may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2261.