Port of Lewiston seats two new commissioners

Both new members support business from megaloads

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The word megaload didn’t surface a single time Tuesday as two new commissioners took their seats at the Port of Lewiston in the biggest transition of elected leaders in more than a decade.

But oversized cargo was on the minds of the port’s three elected officials, with 38 of 211 proposed megaloads at the heart of a nationwide controversy parked just blocks away at the port’s container yard.

The makeup of the commission probably won’t change the port’s stance of not only accepting, but seeking business from companies that want to unload overseas-manufactured components for oil refineries or processing plants.

The new commissioners, Dan Johnson and Mary Hasenoerhl, support megaloads that could travel on U.S. Highway 12 if the haulers can get permission from the Idaho Transportation Department.

ConocoPhillips wants to haul two drums split in half to a refinery in Billings, Mont. The permits for them remain in appeal. ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil hopes to ship 207 components of an oil processing plant to the Kearl Oil Sands, in Alberta, Canada. ITD won’t act on that request until it finishes with ConocoPhillips.

One concern of opponents is the delay other motorists will encounter as the megaloads travel at night, taking up both lanes of traffic and pulling off at regular intervals.

Staff from north central Idaho’s congressional offices were present to congratulate the new port commissioners. They listened as Port Manager David Doeringsfeld brought the commission up to speed on a variety of projects, including plans to double the length of the port dock to 270 feet.

That improvement would help the port accommodate megaloads as well as accomplish other goals such as being able to load two container barges at the same time.

The port is seeking $1.8 million to complete the $2.2 million project. The port has applied in recent years for a federal appropriation, but Doeringsfeld said port officials have been told that avenue isn’t available this year.

“The money will be there and we’ll find a way to get it here,” said Mike Hanna, regional director for U.S. Sen. James Risch in Lewiston. “We’ll use all the cards we can get.”

One of the strategies will likely involve seeking the help of U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, an Idaho Republican who serves on the appropriations committee, but doesn’t represent this area, Hanna said.

The port has received a $237,000 federal appropriation used to fund replacement of deteriorating fenders of the dock and is paying for design of the extension.

Having strong fenders is important for the megaloads because tugs keep barges pushed perpendicular to the dock against the river current as the loads are removed. The oversized loads are set on pedestals and placed on trailers that back underneath the megaloads while they’re still on the barge.

The port expects to have a design ready in upcoming weeks to submit to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a permit in a process anticipated to be six months to one year. The permit is valid for three years once issued and possibly could be extended another two without much difficulty, Doeringsfeld said.

The push to attract megaloads is occurring as the port faces financial struggles. Three of nine positions were cut in 2009 as container cargo loaded onto barges in 2009 and 2010 fell to between 4,000 and 5,000 containers, levels not seen since the late 1970s, Doeringsfeld said.

The first three months of this year are getting off to a slow start because commercial navigation between Portland and Lewiston has been closed since Dec. 10 for rehabilitation of three of the eight locks on the Snake and Columbia rivers.

That project encountered a setback in fabricating a gate resulting in the opening date moving from March 18 to March 23.

New business could emerge when that work is done because the channel between Portland to the Pacific Ocean has been deepened by 3 feet to 43 feet to handle new larger oceangoing ships, Doeringsfeld said. Plus the Port of Portland added service to Japan, Doeringsfeld said.

Complicating the situation is the inexperience of the commissioners. The commissioners serve six-year terms staggered so one seat is normally up for election every two years. But the death of Commissioner Peter Wilson resulted in one of the seats being on the ballot on a different schedule.

The commissioners unanimously selected Jerry Klemm as president. Klemm has served on the commission for two years.

“The old commissioners that were here are going to be missed, but we’re going to work a little harder to pick up the slack,” Klemm said.

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