Port of Lewiston prepares for railroad traffic

Barging will be suspended for 14 weeks this winter

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Three hundred containers will be stockpiled at the Port of Lewiston for a container-rail operation that will serve shippers during the coming temporary suspension of barging on the Snake and Columbia rivers.

It will be the first time in at least eight years cargo has left the Port of Lewiston by train, said David Doeringsfeld, who updated port commissioners on the development at their meeting Tuesday.

Peas, lentils, wheat and perhaps paperboard or pulp from Clearwater Paper will be taken by the Great Northwest Railroad, which will use existing port infrastructure, to Burlington Northern lines in eastern Washington, said Doeringsfeld, manager of the Port of Lewiston.

Even with that option, most shippers will likely get as much volume as possible transported before or after the outage, since getting products to ocean ports is more expensive by rail than barge, said Doeringsfeld. “I don’t think there’s anybody that’s surprised that this is going on.”

Barging from Lewiston to the Port of Portland will not be possible for 14 weeks starting Dec. 10, while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rehabilitates locks at three of the eight dams between Lewiston and Portland. Typically the system is down for about two weeks in the winter.

In other business, the port commissioners examined a plan for about 11 acres of land on the north shore of the Clearwater River between the railroad bridge and the Washington state line. Right now it’s home to a log-sorting yard for Idaho Forest Products and PCS Company, a business that constructs scaffolding.

But the commissioners are wondering if the prime river location just downstream from a popular fishing hole might be a candidate for conversion to a recreational and commercial use at an unspecified date.

The site could eventually become a recreational vehicle park, with about 40 sites linked to a nearby island with a foot bridge, a boat launch and a cruise boat dock, said Nolan Harper, a planner from the Walla Walla District of the corps.

His concept also has a complex that might house a bait shop, restaurant and convenience store and maybe even have housing in the upper story.

“You’ve got some really neat views of the cities of Lewiston and Clarkston,” said Harper, whose work was paid for by the corps and port. “You’ve got property that’s not hidden by the levees.”

How feasible Harper’s plan is remains to be seen. The port has no money available to develop the project at this time, but it hasn’t ruled out making an agreement with a private party, Doeringsfeld said.

The site sits on top of a former landfill that accepted municipal and industrial waste including material from what is now Clearwater Paper, Harper said.

That means any plan would have to be approved by Idaho’s Department of Environmental Quality. That agency could impose requirements about adding to an existing clay cap that’s 2 feet deep, Harper said.

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