Port of Lewiston Loses
by Elaine Williams
With changes in how Potlatch Corp. ships paperboard to Asia, the Port of Lewiston has all but lost what was once the biggest customer of its container yard.
The reduction in business from Potlatch began in 2002 and then accelerated in January, said Port Manager David Doeringsfeld.
That was when two of the four container shipping lines serving the Port of Portland stopped calling there, said Doeringsfeld, who spoke at a Tuesday port meeting. The newest, largest, most cost efficient ships are unable to reach Portland because the Columbia River channel isn't deep enough.
The departures left the Port of Portland without service to Japan, Potlatch's largest Asian customer for paperboard.
"Hardly any would be a good description,'' Doeringsfeld said when asked to characterize how much Potlatch business was left.
In April, the port shipped 46 containers of paper products, compared with 548 containers for the same time in 2004.
Going forward, it's unlikely to get any better, Doeringsfeld said. "I'm looking at primarily agricultural products coming through the container yard.''
Mark Benson, Potlatch's spokesman in Lewiston, said the service at the Port of Portland leaves his company with few options. Presently Potlatch is hauling products to Puget Sound ports by truck and sending them to the Pacific Rim from there.
"Our use of the Snake-Columbia system is hamstrung by the inefficiencies of the Port of Portland.''
Benson said the situation has improved some in recent weeks with one of Portland's shippers making limited calls to Japan. "We don't see that amounting to a lot of shipments, but it demonstrates that when there is an avenue through the Port of Portland, we use the Snake-Columbia system.''
Paperboard is one of the only Potlatch products that is barged. The paperboard is used to make containers for goods such as food, cosmetics and medicine.
Potlatch's lumber and consumer tissue are not shipped on the rivers.
Because of the decline in business from Potlatch, the Port of Lewiston expects revenue for terminal operations to drop by $410,000 in the coming fiscal year to $718,000.
The port is compensating for the loss in a number of ways. One employee was laid off. The duties of one position were combined with another through attrition.
Less overtime is budgeted for the coming year and the port isn't planning on using contracted help as it did last year to fill gaps.
When the container yard is slow, its employees will do tasks that had previously been contracted, such as landscaping and yard maintenance.
Almost $150,000 less is expected to be spent on land acquisition and development. The port's revenue had been high enough in previous years that some of it had been funneled into those activities, Doeringsfeld says.
In addition the port anticipates rental income will grow by about $27,000.
Day-to-day port functions will continue to be supported by operating revenue, not property taxes.
The $450,000 property tax levy the port expects to impose for the 2005-2006 fiscal year continues to be earmarked for land acquisition and development.
The biggest share of that money will go for more purchases of land at the port's business and technology park.
The proposed rate of 20.9 cents per thousand for 2005-2006 is about half what it was in 1990 when the levy amount of $498,000 was greater, said Dale Alldredge, commission president.
At 20.9 cents per thousand, a homeowner with a house valued at $100,000 would owe $20.90 for the port.
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