Snake Ports Contribute Through Tourism,
by Philip S. Moore, for the Capital Press
“Things are going great for us,” said Port of Clarkston Manager Rick Davis. “We have a cruise boat dock and we have buildings and land to lease. We also have a facility that we lease to off-load all kinds of cargo.”
What Washington’s Port of Clarkston doesn’t have are farm exports. A series of tour boats and smaller cruise ships are the primary users of the port’s docks. Their grain terminal has been leased to Lewis & Clark Grain Terminal Company, and the port doesn’t have any value-added agricultural products going downriver.
Three decades after they were created, in anticipation of a 465-mile navigation channel between Western Idaho and the Pacific Ocean, the ports of the lower Snake River are contributing to their communities through tourism, new business incubators and industrial development projects.
However, when it comes to taking advantage of the river to broaden the scope of their resource-based economy, the Snake River ports lag far behind those on the Columbia River, such as the ports of Pasco, Wash., and Umatilla and Morrow in Oregon.
Farthest upstream and the largest, the Port of Lewiston earned $13.2 million in gross revenue during 2002 and indirectly or directly supports a 550-person payroll. Overall, the port is responsible for $120 million in sales and 1,900 jobs in Nez Perce County, said Port Manager David Doeringsfeld.
“We look at the primary mission of the port to be job creation. Intermodal transportation, economic development and international trade all play a role in that,” he said. “We move a lot of bulk (wood) pulp and paper board in containers.” Other products include manufactured products, lumber and recycled plastics.
“Shipping volumes are about average, right now, and container volume is down a bit, since Potlatch (Paper Co.) began shipping by rail to Seattle. We move wheat and barley in bulk.”
Doeringsfeld said that approximately 2,500 40-foot container loads of peas and lentils are shipped through the Port of Lewiston each year. “This is 30 to 40 percent of U.S. exports, mostly to Pacific Rim countries, South America and India.”
Unlike potatoes and vegetables shipped through the ports of Umatilla and Morrow, dried pea and lentil exports are not processed or packaged before loading.
“We probably won’t see much of that in the near future,” he said.
Although the nearby Port of Garfield County is the smallest on the lower Snake River, the economics are similar, said Port Manager Laura Brazell. “Our county is almost entirely agriculture dependent and we’re trying to diversify,” she said.
Brazell said the wheat, barley and cattle raised on the 325,000 acres of farmland, almost 80 percent of the total land area of Garfield County, is shipped by barge or rail as bulk products.
The port is working to improve Highway 12 access to its industrial property in Pomeroy. “We’re looking to attract some sort of distributor to our 10,000-square-foot facility, or maybe even a small manufacturer.”
As for developing value-added agricultural products, she said, “it would be wonderful if we could find something new that we could do with the resources we have, and there are things we can do with byproducts, but for now, we have to concentrate on getting something in here for family-wage jobs.”
The situation at the ports of Garfield and Lewiston are symptomatic of the entire lower Snake River region, which has been struggling through three years of a down economy, said Glenn Vanselow, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association.
“As economic development agencies for their counties, the ports need to look more broadly into meeting the needs of their communities,” Vanselow said. “Right now, that means diversifying local economies by any method available, such as tourism or manufacturing.”
Diversified agriculture established itself first on the Columbia River because there was a broader variety of agricultural products. “There are onions, potatoes and vegetables,” he said. “Farther up, on the Snake River, the normal commodity is grain. The value-added opportunities aren’t as obvious.”
However, just because value-added farm production hasn’t emerged as an economic engine for the region doesn’t mean it won’t, Vanselow said. “International trade is likely to double in the Pacific Northwest over the next two decades. The momentum continues to be one of finding growth markets.”
An additional trend is the movement away from bulk commodities toward tailored products designed to meet specific final manufacturing capabilities and local tastes, he said. This has already included an apple juice processing facility in Walla Walla, where local apples are blended with other varieties from around the world, to provide specific juice products for overseas and domestic markets.
“They are also processing Chinese cherries at the Port of Newport.” Vanselow said it’s only a matter of time before one or more grain crop or its byproduct becomes the basis for a new industry.
“The one thing you can count on is that business opportunities we couldn’t have seen, 20 years ago, are now commonplace. Global traffic patterns and economic trends are changing all the time.”
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs