Port of Lewiston wins dock-expansion grant

Posted: Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The region’s barging system, not rail, was a winner in a federal grant program that will provide $1.3 million for the Port of Lewiston to expand its dock.

The $2.9 million dock extension was the only Idaho project to be awarded money from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Discretionary Grant program.

The port estimates the project will create 48 jobs by 2023, assuming the annual number of containers the port handles grows from the 3,653 it handled last year to 16,000.

“The amount of product leaving this area has remained constant or increased,” said David Doeringsfeld, manager of the Port of Lewiston. “The issue is recapturing what’s been bled off to Seattle/Tacoma (ports).”

The Port of Lewiston previously moved as many as 18,000 containers a year at its 120-foot container dock that handles overseas cargo – transferred to ocean-going ships in Portland.

The expansion will add 150 feet, making the operation more safe and efficient, but the port has no indication from its customers that the upgrade will bring them back, Doeringsfeld said.

The Port of Whitman didn’t receive an $8.5 million grant it sought from the same pool of revenue. That money would have replaced 25 bridges on 29 miles of rail in eastern Washington.

The proposed rehabilitation is part of a plan to bring a $17 million shuttle-train loader operation to McCoy, about 15 miles north of Steptoe. That facility is under construction and expected to be finished in time for the 2013 harvest.

What impact not getting TIGER money will have on the facility was not clear Monday. The next move may be to seek state support, said Joe Poire, executive director of the Port of Whitman County. “(The rail line) is a state asset and they’re going to have to budget for it.”

The two agricultural cooperatives that will own the facility had no comment Monday. They are Pacific Northwest Farmers Cooperative in Genesee and Co-Ag in Rosalia. Bill Newbry, chief executive officer of PNW, has said the federal grant wasn’t the only way to accomplish the work.

The political deck was stacked against the port’s request, Poire said. Washington’s governor and congressional delegation were backing construction on the Spokane area interstate that received $10 million, Poire said. “You’re doomed from the start.”

That initiative is building a link between Interstate 90 and U.S. Highway 2 north of Spokane.

While the federal dollars will help motorists in Spokane, in Lewiston they will make it easier for the barges that call on Idaho’s only seaport to export containers of dried peas, lentils, garbanzo beans, wheat and paper products.

Two barges, not one, will be able to use the dock at once. Emission of greenhouse gases will drop as fewer trucks haul goods, according to a news release about the grant.

The Port of Lewiston had resources to move ahead without TIGER money. The application had been rejected twice, Doeringsfeld said.

What the award does is allow the port to proceed with less from loans and its reserves, making it possible to pursue other infrastructure improvements, Doeringsfeld said.

Port commissioners haven’t discussed what those might be, Doeringsfeld said.

One thing the money won’t do is accelerate how fast the work is completed, Doeringsfeld said. The port will stick to its original schedule of starting in July 2013 and finishing in September.

It will take that long to advertise and receive bids for the project. The time of year is dictated by the National Marine Fisheries Service to avoid bothering threatened fish.

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

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