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Economic and dam related articles

Judge Recommends Incomes
for Columbia River, Bar Pilots

by Staff
The Cunningham Report, May 17, 2010

An administrative law judge in Portland, Ore. has recommended target net incomes of $214,447 per year for both bar pilots and river pilots along the Columbia River. The recommendations match a settlement arrived at earlier this spring between the bar pilots and seaports along the river, but fall substantially short of the increase requested by the river pilots.

The Columbia River Bar Pilots navigate vessels from the open sea across the treacherous Columbia River Bar, while the Columbia River Pilots guide vessels four to nine hours upriver to the Port of Longview, Port of Portland and Port of Vancouver, USA. Five-year rate agreements with both groups expired last fall.

This week, both parties will make final arguments regarding their tariffs before the Oregon Board of Maritime Pilots. The board has until May 28 to decide whether to adopt the administrative judge's recommendations, reject them, or modify them in any way.

In making his recommendations, administrative law judge Allan J. Arlow referenced a settlement reached in March between the bar pilots and the Port of Portland, Port of Longview, Port of Vancouver USA, Port of Astoria and Port of Kalama. That settlement established a $299,998 target gross income for each pilot, which included $85,551 per-pilot expenses for equipment, health and life insurance, sick leave and pension allowances.

The judge noted that the target net income of $214,447 "almost never equates to the actual income that a pilot earns in a given year" because the actual incomes are affected by the level of vessel traffic and operating costs during a given year. The target net income for bar pilots established during the last ratemaking process in 2005 was $187,754, although a bar pilot representative said earlier this year that their 2009 net incomes averaged about $200,000.

The judge's recommendation for the river pilots did not meet that group's request for parity with pilots in Puget Sound and San Francisco Bay, whose salaries reportedly average about $374,000. The judge noted that in the past, the Board of Maritime Pilots has been "most concerned with parity with other Oregon pilots." Nevertheless, the net income recommended for the river pilots is significantly higher than the $160,337 per pilot average in 2009, while lower than the incomes of $231,959 in 2007 and $244,890 in 2008 when traffic on the Columbia River was at its peak.

The judge accepted most requests for expenditures submitted by the river pilots, yet rejected a request for $27,014 for "legislative consultants." That line-item for lobbyists is similar to a request for "firm relations" that was rejected by the pilotage board during the last rate hearings, the judge noted.

Recommendations for both pilot groups faced opposition from the Columbia River Steamship Operators' Association. Executive Director Jim Townley said his group opposed any rate increases because traffic on the river has declined since the last rate hearings.

Because of financial constraints, Townley said earlier this year that the steamship association would not hire an attorney to present independent testimony or cross-examine witnesses for the pilots. Instead, the association merely responded to questions posed by the judge.

That decision impaired the association's standing before the judge. Because the association "waived its right" to cross-examine witnesses or present contradictory testimony, the judge said the association had no right to raise "rhetorical questions" as to the validity of the pilots' claims.

In addition to making recommendations on rates, the judge recommended staffing levels of 15 pilots for the bar pilots and 43 for the river pilots. Both numbers are consistent with current staffing levels.

Judge Recommends Incomes for Columbia River, Bar Pilots
The Cunningham Report, May 17, 2010

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