With Drawdown Settled,
by Elaine Williams
Commissioners are positive barge traffic will continue
Relief over a recent court decision not to drop the pool 10 feet behind Lower Granite Dam this summer almost overshadowed the passage of the Port of Lewiston's annual budget.
Had district court Judge James Redden in Portland opted for the drawdown, the 2005-2006 budget passed by port commissioners Tuesday would have been off base even though just a month earlier it appeared to be a conservative prediction of the port's financial future.
The commissioners said they were glad Redden spared the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley financial hardship and instead chose to spill water over the dams that otherwise would be used for electric generation.
Had Redden sided with environmentalists, the port could have lost about $90,000 or 25 percent of revenue from its container yard.
The yard would have been forced to stop operations from now until water levels returned to normal for barge traffic at the end of September.
Last week's court confrontation doesn't signal the end of the debate over the use of the Snake and Columbia rivers.
Redden has indicated he doesn't believe enough is being done to save endangered salmon runs and is asking the parties involved to work toward a long-term solution.
The commissioners shrugged off ongoing concerns about the viability of barging from Lewiston, saying they were confident commercial river traffic would continue.
The court case comes at a time when business at the Port of Lewiston's container yard is dwindling.
The budget for the coming fiscal year is $1.7 million, $378,000 less than this year.
Business at the container yard was down by 52 percent for the first part of 2005, compared with the same time last year.
The reason is that Potlatch Corp., the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley's largest employer, is using the port's container yard less.
Potlatch has shifted much of its business from the Port of Portland, which is fed by the Port of Lewiston, to Puget Sound ports.
Potlatch officials have said the Port of Portland has been unable to offer consistent service to Japan, one of its largest customers for paperboard, the product Potlatch ships on the river.
"This is what I think when you say we're down, it's not because of anything we have done," said commission President Dale Alldredge.
One of the Port of Portland's problems is being resolved, Alldredge said.
A channel deepening project between Portland and the Pacific Ocean has started that will make it possible for bigger ships to make it to Portland, Alldredge said.
Despite potential improvements in Portland, the Port of Lewiston has adjusted for expected lower revenue by cutting expenses in a number of ways. Crew members at the container yard now do other work for the port that had previously been assigned to contractors.
Land acquisition and development has been cut by nearly $150,000 to $450,000.
The $450,000 figure is equal to what the port receives in property taxes, Alldredge said. "That's not by accident. It's not necessarily a written policy. But we do not take property tax revenue and use it to offset operating the port.''
This year's levy rate would cost someone with $100,000 of assessed valuation after Idaho's home owner exemption $20.90 for the year.
Even with the challenges at the container yard, property taxes still represent a minority or about 25 percent of the port's revenue.
The majority comes from the business the port's container yard still does, warehouse operations and leases from port tenants.
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