Port of Portland Takes Action
by Alex Pulaski & Brent Hunsberger
The Port agrees to make staff cuts, to add an $11.35 million container crane
and to partner with Vancouver on projects
Port of Portland commissioners took two steps toward expanding the port's shipping future Wednesday, and a step back to address the reality of the present.
The commissioners, at their regular monthly meeting, agreed to spend $11.35 million for installation of a new giant container crane. They also approved an agreement to jointly market and develop as-yet-unspecified projects with the Port of Vancouver.
Bill Wyatt, the Port of Portland's executive director, and staff members said the two moves would position the Port to take advantage of shipping opportunities for years to come.
The present is anything but rosy, however. Two of three trans-Pacific container carriers will have abandoned Portland by year's end, and the Port last month decided to trim about 10 percent of its staff -- 81 positions -- to weather the loss of two-thirds of its container revenue.
Though those staff members already had been notified, commissioners took the formal action of approving a revised budget. The cuts are expected to save $9.3 million annually.
Wyatt said that although cutting staff was painful, it would better allow the Port to withstand the ups and downs of the container shipping business. He expressed confidence the Port could attract new shipping business.
Sam Ruda, the Port's marine director, said it would have been "easier" six months ago to propose buying the new container crane, a Chinese model costing $7.55 million. The Port budgeted $3.8 million more for parts, design, testing and contingencies.
Even with recent announcements by the two container lines that they were leaving, Ruda and other staff members said that adding the crane was necessary to prepare for new wider, high-capacity vessels. The Port currently has two cranes designed to handle such ships. By trimming time and labor costs, the Port says, adding a third large crane would save $800,000 to $1 million annually for each large-capacity vessel making regular calls.
Currently, no so-called post-Panamax vessels -- those too wide to navigate the Panama Canal -- are making Portland stops. Port staff told commissioners that Hanjin Shipping, the only trans-Pacific line that has stated its intention to continue calling on Portland next year, plans to begin sending the wider ships to Portland next summer.
Post-Panamax ships have called on Portland in the past.
The new marketing and development agreement with the Port of Vancouver, which was approved by that Port's commissioners Tuesday, does not set out specific projects. But it commits each port to name managers who will meet regularly and obligates each port to share costs and revenues from joint projects.
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