Barges Promoted as Practical Alternative for Shippingby Mark Engler, Staff Writer
Capital Press - August 23, 2002
PORTLAND -- A coalition of officials from tug and barge companies, port districts and the Oregon Department of Agriculture is urging state transportation officials to give more attention to barge transport of freight.
"We think that, as far as a statewide policy is concerned, water travel should be given additional attention as an alternative, as an adjunct and as a supplement," said Dalton Hobbs, an ag development and marketing specialist with the Oregon Department of Agriculture. "That's not to say highways and railways are bad, but there are opportunities to explore better utilization of the waterways."
Hobbs and John Kratochvil, an international trade manager with ODA, are among members of the Oregon Waterways Coalition. Among other members are representatives of under-utilized ports on the Oregon Coast, the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, the Port of Portland, and the Port of Morrow, on the Columbia River in Eastern Oregon.
Coalition members are pushing the idea that moving heavy cargo by water makes sound economic and environmental sense and that improving and expanding waterway transportation would benefit not just Oregon but farmers and other cargo shippers all the way back into the upper Midwest. They say coastal and inland waterways are generally underused and that government policies tend to encourage industrial development only near interstate and other highways rather than, for example, on the coast.
Waterways officials say the Columbia-Snake system is carrying only 40 percent of the barge traffic it could safely handle. And they say virtually all waterborne freight is for export -- very little imported freight makes its way back upriver.
More than 30 percent of all U.S. wheat exports typically move down the Snake and Columbia rivers, according to the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, a Portland-based group.
Members of the coalition have released results of a study comparing barge transportation to truck and rail. They contend that barge shipments are preferable in rates charged to customers, fuel used, pollutants emitted, on-time delivery, and money spent on infrastructure. The only drawback on barges, said a coalition member at a recent meeting, is high pay to longshoremen.
Kratochivil says that based on figures from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, a ton of freight can move farther by barge on one gallon of diesel fuel than is the case with truck or rail transportation. Advocates also say that increase barge shipments could relieve truck congestion along the Interstate 5 and 84 freeways in Oregon.
"What pollution we do cause -- because we do burn diesel just like trucks and trains -- is considerably less per ton-mile," said John Sweet of Sause Bros. Ocean Towing, Coos Bay, Ore. "But equally as important is that our exhaust emissions go into an airshed that's generally pretty clan compared to the airshed along the I-5 corridor." Sause Bros. barges lumber from southwest Oregon out of the Port of Coos Bay to Los Angeles and other destinations.
"An average tow for us," said Sweet, "might carry 11 million board feet of lumber whereas if you get 20,000 board feet on a truck, you're lucky. That translates to 550 truckloads of lumber for one barge load. We do that about three times a month. The number of trucks that go down the I-5 corridor is significantly reduced because of us."
Coalition members want to bring their barge transportation case to the attention of state officials who influence decisions on funding of highway construction and other transportation projects. Kratochvil represents the Oregon Department of Agriculture on the freight Advisory Committee of the Oregon Department of Transportation. The coalition wants to whittle away at what they say is "political uncertainty" over dams, electricity, water availability and river navigation due to environmental concerns.
"When you have elected government officials openly advocating dam removal and for destruction of a waterway system," said Dixon shaver of Shaver Transportation, "you've got some problems."
"Flat-out irresponsible" are the words Shaver, whose family founded the company in 1880, used to describe proposals to breach dams on the Snake River. He said such breaching would render the Lower Snake River impassable for water cargo.
How would state agencies in Oregon encourage more barge shipments? John Sweet of Sause Bros. thinks it is unlikely that barge companies would take much business away from truckers or railroads as things now stand. He and other coastal officials called instead for officials to encourage investment on the coast and near rivers in facilities which generate freight.
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