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Oregon Exporters May Turn to Port of Tacoma

by Associated Press
Seattle Times, August 17, 2004

PORTLAND -- Now that a second container-shipping service plans to pull out of the Port of Portland, Oregon exporters are considering their options.

One idea is to bypass Portland entirely and instead barge the big metal boxes out the Columbia River and around the Olympic Peninsula to Tacoma's fast-growing megaport on Puget Sound.

Two steamship companies that together account for two-thirds of Portland's container traffic "K" Line and Hyundai Merchant Marine recently announced they'll be leaving that port, the only major inland maritime port on the West Coast.

The departures leave the Port of Portland with just one trans-Pacific container line and have forced exporters to consider new ideas.

"If there is a better or cheaper or more stable way, we're all for it," Bill Wyatt, Port of Portland executive director, told The Oregonian newspaper. "I'm not going to stand in the way."

Some experts say Portland should admit defeat for now in the cutthroat global container business and fall back on its strengths.

"It's tough for the longshoremen, and it's tough for the Port, but sadly it's one of the many adjustments that have to be made," Brent Dibner, president of Dibner Maritime Associates, a Massachusetts consulting firm, told The Oregonian.

"The big new container ships are so big that they are like supertankers, and they will only go to a small number of ports" in the years ahead, Dibner said.

The industry changes could undermine the case for deepening the Columbia River shipping channel to accommodate larger container vessels and grain ships.

President Bush made a campaign appearance at the Port of Portland on Friday to announce he has asked Congress for $15 million to begin the $150 million Columbia dredging project, which environmentalists and budget watchdogs oppose.

Port officials, however, still advocate deepening the channel to keep Oregon competitive.

Farmers and other Northwest exporters would suffer increased costs if Portland stopped handling containers and they had to use Tacoma, officials say.

But John Kratochvil, Oregon Agriculture Department international trade manager, is circulating a draft report on barging the containers after conducting an extensive study.

Kratochvil, an economist, says he expected container shippers to withdraw from Portland after Hyundai, Hanjin and others invested in ships too large for even a deepened Columbia River channel. He said containers could be loaded on barges and hauled by oceangoing tugs to Tacoma cheaper than by truck.

Associated Press
Oregon Exporters May Turn to Port of Tacoma
Seattle Times, August 17, 2004

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