Port wants megaloads back

By ELAINE WILLIAMS of the Tribune

Megaloads are still on the table as the Port of Lewiston crafts its budget for the coming fiscal year.

The port is seeking to increase the amount it sets aside for legal expenses from $9,000 this year to $33,000 next year to be prepared for litigation to keep the U.S. Highway 12 corridor open for megaloads. It has also more than doubled the money available for administration travel to $21,500.

Those two items are part of a draft budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, which Lewiston port commissioners reviewed Wednesday.

No megaload taking up two lanes of traffic has moved on U.S. Highway 12 since last summer, after a federal judge imposed a preliminary injunction halting the shipments in response to a lawsuit filed against the U.S. Forest Service by the Nez Perce Tribe and Idaho Rivers United. The two groups are in mediation on the issue.

Even though that matter hasn’t been resolved, port commissioners are giving Port Manager David Doeringsfeld the go-ahead to recruit more megaloads.

“It’s not a priority,” said Commissioner Jerry Klemm. “It’s one piece of the puzzle.”

Megaloads have been a lucrative form of diversification at a time when business at the port’s container yard has been well below historic highs. The port made more than half a million dollars when modules from an Imperial Oil processing plant went through Lewiston about three years ago.

In upcoming months, Doeringsfeld will meet with representatives from steamship lines and existing customers who ship dried peas and lentils.

He will also visit places such as Spokane and the oil fields in North Dakota looking for new outgoing and incoming cargo. The hoped-for expansion of business will likely be in something that the port doesn’t handle now, Doeringsfeld said.

“We can’t just sit here and expect customers to come and knock on our door,” said Port Commission Chairwoman Mary Hasenoehrl.

The travel and legal expenses are a small part of a proposed $1.9 million budget. Most of the revenue is projected to come from three sources. The container yard is expected to generate $857,000. Property rentals are predicted to earn $453,844. Property tax revenue is forecast to be $450,000, the same amount that’s been levied for about 10 years.

Port commissioners took the first of two votes Wednesday needed to impose the tax on Nez Perce County residents. The next one will be at the port’s budget hearing at 7 a.m. June 11.

The port usually earmarks tax money for capital improvements that help generate jobs. This year the largest item on that list is $250,000 for development of a fiber-optic network.

The Port of Lewiston is working with the Port of Whitman County to design the network, Doeringsfeld said. The port’s network would likely connect to a Port of Whitman County route on the Washington side of Red Wolf Crossing Bridge.

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