Firm Finds Way Around River Shippingby Erik Robinson
The Columbian, April 15, 2007
LEWISTON, Idaho -- Lewiston's biggest company has found other ways, besides river barges, to get its product to market.
The Potlatch Corp. mill is impossible to miss, situated on the south bank of the Clearwater River just upriver from Lewiston's downtown. The plant employs 1,800 people making lumber, paperboard, tissue and pulp.
With its huge towers pumping exhaust into the sky, the mill delineates the point where the free-flowing Clearwater ends and the slack water reservoir begins.
Yet, Potlatch no longer uses the river as its primary transportation corridor.
A company spokesman cited difficulties in Portland, starting with a longshoremen's strike followed by the loss of container shipping lines willing to send deep-draft ships 103 miles up the Columbia River to meet river barges in Portland. Instead, Potlatch now primarily trucks its finished paperboard products to deep-water ports on Puget Sound.
"We reached a point where we simply couldn't get our product through the Port of Portland to our Asian customers in a timely manner," said Mark Benson, the Spokane-based company's vice president for public affairs. "We made a decision to use the ports of Tacoma and Seattle."
Benson said Potlatch continues to barge some of its finished products downstream -- about 4,000 steel shipping containers last year, according to the Port of Lewiston -- while re-supplying the mill with raw wood chips hauled in barges headed upriver.
"There's no question that barge transportation is the more economical solution for moving finished goods to the West Coast," he said.
Portland has subsequently enticed new container lines, which officials partly credit to the ongoing project to deepen the river's channel from 40 to 43 feet between
Vancouver-Portland and Astoria, Ore. Port of Lewiston Manager David Doeringsfeld said container shipping is picking up.
"We're starting to see that turn around," Doeringsfeld said.
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