Port weighs container traffic options

Containers of hay, straw, produce and other commodities now must be trucked to Tacoma or Seattle to be loaded onto ships for the trip overseas, adding to the time and cost of doing business.

Published on March 16, 2017 11:13AM

A container stacker operated by a longshoreman works at the Port of Portland’s container terminal. The container terminal has ceased operations but managers hope to attract another carrier or find another role the facility can play to help shippers.

Mateusz Perkowski/Capital Press File

A container stacker operated by a longshoreman works at the Port of Portland’s container terminal. The container terminal has ceased operations but managers hope to attract another carrier or find another role the facility can play to help shippers.

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There may be hope yet for the Port of Portland’s container operation, which has been in mothballs for two years.

The demise of Terminal 6 is attributable to several important factors. The trans-Pacific shipping industry overexpanded in recent years, meaning most companies were financially stressed. The Port of Portland is 100 miles upstream from the Pacific Ocean and the largest container ships could not call there while fully loaded. The International Longshore Workers Union made a career of creating as much havoc as it could, picking fights with the terminal operator and other unions and slowing down container traffic to a trickle.

That toxic combination spelled doom for the port’s container operation. If and when a container shipper will return to Terminal 6 is anyone’s guess.

For agricultural exporters, that’s bad news. Containers of hay, straw, produce and other commodities now must be trucked to Tacoma or Seattle to be loaded onto ships for the trip overseas, adding to the time and cost of doing business.

But there’s hope the port can play another role that would benefit exporters. At a recent meeting of the port’s board, managers suggested that the port’s rail link could be used to take containers from Portland to the Puget Sound ports. That would take truck traffic off Interstate 5 and, presumably, save exporters money. If the cost savings are real, such a service would be worthwhile.

In the meantime, the port is trying to land another container shipper. With the location of the port, that will take some doing. Keeping the Columbia River dredged to accommodate larger container ships, maintaining a truce with the ILWU and finding an operator for the facility now that ICTSI Oregon Inc. is gone are all tall orders.

We hope it can be done. Fingers crossed.

But in the meantime, a rail shuttle or other possibilities for helping agricultural exporters in the region will be much appreciated.



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