Port of Lewiston finalizing budget

Entity plans to get $450,000 from taxpayers

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Port of Lewiston plans on receiving $450,000 from the taxpayers of Nez Perce County in the coming fiscal year, the same amount it’s gotten for six consecutive years.

The figure comes from the port’s preliminary budget, which was discussed by commissioners earlier this week. Someone with $100,000 of taxable value in residential property after a homeowner’s exemption would pay $18.75 per year.

The budget is scheduled to be finalized at a meeting at 1:30 p.m. on June 9 at the port office at 1626 Sixth Ave. North in Lewiston.

The money from taxpayers is used for projects to improve the economic climate in the region, not day-to-day operations of the port. The biggest item planned for the 2009-2010 fiscal year is a 150-foot expansion of the port’s 120-foot container dock.

The port has budgeted $150,000 of its own revenue for the $2.7 million project. It’s seeking the remainder of the money from state and federal sources. If it doesn’t succeed in obtaining the money from outside sources, it won’t construct the addition, said David Doeringsfeld, the port’s manager.

The expansion would allow the port to load and unload two barges at once. Right now it only has space for one. It will enable the port to handle oversized cargo such as wind turbines destined for the Midwest. People are expressing interest in using the port for that purpose because they can save money doing so, Doeringsfeld said.

It’s less expensive to barge oversized cargo from Portland to Lewiston than drive the same items across Oregon or Washington, in part because of the rules governing such activities in those states, Doeringsfeld said.

The second largest project the port has on its project list is a $90,000 sidewalk that would connect sidewalk along WalMart on Thain Grade with another sidewalk on the perimeter of Nez Perce Plaza, where Applebee’s and Home Depot are.

The port has reduced its operations budget for the coming fiscal year compared with the one that finishes at the end of June. It budgeted $1.36 million in that category in 2009/2010, a $280,483 reduction compared with 2008/2009. The largest share of the savings comes at the container yard, where the port cut two positions last year and expects to spend almost $200,000 less for repairs, maintenance and contributions to a fund that pays for major equipment replacements.

The port’s remaining staff, which includes six full-time employees and one half-time employee, won’t get raises this year. Business at the port’s container yard is down because of the economy and the difficulty in finding barge companies that call on the Port of Portland that can take goods to final destinations of the Port of Lewiston’s customers, Doeringsfeld said.

Buyers are paying less for dried peas, lentils and garbanzo beans, which account for a large share of the agricultural products going through the port’s container yard. The prices to send wheat in bulk and not in containers are at record lows.

And the entrepreneurs who do the shipping are having a tougher time getting the letters of credit they once relied on to do business because of the problems in the banking industry.

So someone who used to ship 40 containers of a commodity might now only be able to do four, Doeringsfeld said. At the same time, Clearwater Paper, which ships pulp and paperboard through the Port of Lewiston, is having challenges finding carriers at the Port of Portland that call on the destinations where they have customers.

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