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Shippers Sign on for Port Support

by Matthew Weaver
Capital Press, December 30, 2010

Subsidies offset increased cost of shipping containers to Portland

(Will Koenig/Capital Press) Graphic of higher reported price to ship a bushel of wheat to Portland. Several shippers have signed up for Port of Portland subsidies while locks on the Columbia and Snake rivers are repaired, a port representative says.

The port initiated the subsidies to offset the cost of truck or rail transportation while the river system is closed for three months of repairs, said Josh Thomas, marine and industrial development media relations manager for the Port of Portland.

Agricultural products such as wheat are exported via the port.

The port in November pledged $800,000 for subsidies. Under the program, each shipper receives a payment per container, regardless of size. If the container originates from the Port of Lewiston, the allowance is $400. For those from the Port of Boardman or the Port of Umatilla, the allowance is $250 per container.

The program is designed to keep the port cost-competitive for cargo, Thomas said. It is intended for shippers that would otherwise ship containers to Portland by barge.

Thomas expects additional shippers to sign up.

Some shippers have the "luxury" of waiting until locks reopen, Thomas said. The port also saw increased activity prior to the closure.

The port's focus during the river closure is on containers, since the district owns and operates its container terminal, Thomas said.

Tom Hammond, president of Columbia Grain, which is a tenant of Terminal 5 at the Port of Portland, said several buyers purchased grain in advance of the closure. Otherwise, he said, business volume is "kind of normal."

Hammond said the company's volume in 2010 will be greater than the two previous years, but volume in December is not any larger than volume in October or November.

The river closure reduces Columbia Grain's capacity, Hammond said.

"We just reduce our exports until we get the river back," he said.

Hammond said the Willamette Valley had a large wheat crop this year, but it's relatively small compared to the amount the company draws from the Columbia-Snake River system.

Locks closed

The navigation locks all went out of service on schedule Dec. 10, said Scott Clemans, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Portland district.

The locks were turned over to contractors that weekend.

Crews performed preparatory work for demolition and removal of the sections of the gates at the John Day and Lower Monumental Dams. Each leaf of The Dalles gate will be removed, Clemans said.

Demolition and removal of gates began at Lower Monumental and was scheduled to continue through the end of the month, Clemans said.

The pieces of the John Day gate are scheduled to be moved Jan. 5 or 6.

The Portland and Walla Walla, Wash., districts of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are replacing the huge gates that allow barges to pass around The Dalles and John Day dams on the Columbia River and the Lower Monumental dam on the Snake River. The Lower Monumental lock is scheduled to reopen March 13. The Dalles and John Day dams are scheduled to reopen March 18.

Matthew Weaver
Shippers Sign on for Port Support
Capital Press, December 30, 2010

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