Port of Portland woes affecting upriver exporters

Hapag-Lloyd represented about 90 percent of the Port of Lewiston’s service.

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 Hapag-Lloyd ending its service to Portland has been troublesome for lentil farmers 400 miles up the Columbia River.

Hapag-Lloyd represented about 90 percent of the Port of Lewiston’s service, OregonLive.com reports.

Before the announcement, Hapag-Lloyd had stopped giving containers to anyone who wanted to send them back through the Port of Lewiston to be put on a barge, which would navigate the Columbia Snake River channel, get lifted onto a ship in Portland and then shipped to customers in Europe, the Middle East or South America.

Instead, farmers could only load their dry peas, lentils and garbanzo beans into containers that would be sent by truck to ports in Seattle or Tacoma. The Port of Lewiston is the country’s most inland port — 365 miles farther from the Pacific Ocean than Portland, beyond the reach of major shipping lines. Port customers relied on barges to transport 40 percent of the country’s wheat exports and thousands of containers a year of “pulses” – legume crops including chick peas, lima beans, lentils, peanuts, dry peas and soybeans.

Portland accounted for about one percent of West Coast container shipping. But its slow demise could drag Lewiston down with it.

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In a column published Saturday, The Oregonian editorial board described a list of challenges facing the port.

The board said the future of a container terminal in Portland depends on the union.

From OregonLive.com:

ICTSI Oregon Chief Executive Elvis Ganda said his company is committed to the Portland market and will try to recruit new shippers. That, and the remainder of ICTSI’s contract, should be enough to puncture longshore workers’ dream of ICTSI leaving. Besides, Port Executive Director Bill Wyatt said the Port reclaiming operation of the terminal, as the union would like, would be too expensive to consider.

That leaves the container terminal’s fate in the hands of dockworkers. Will the ILWU sign an agreement pledging to improve turnaround times? Or is it willing to cause workers to lose jobs and growers and businesses to lose money just to inflict pain on ICTSI and win a hollow victory in a feud that started over the equivalent of two jobs? If it chooses the hollow victory, that legislative wish list is likely to be pretty long.

Is container service at the Port of Portland important enough to save? Vote here.