Idaho's Port of Lewiston at Crossroads
Tell us about the Port of Lewiston?
We operate in three areas – mobile transportation is the movement of goods and cargo by water, rail and truck. We work in international trade and economic development and the development part consists of industrial parks and business parks that we operate in the community – we have roughly 270 acres of property with in Nez Perce county in the Lewiston area and develop business sites. We also have business incubators -- buildings for businesses to get started those are some areas we try to foster new Businesses.
How important is state transportation infa-structure to the Port?
On the inter-mobile transportation side – in order to be competitive you need to be competitive in all areas – not just water transportation, but river rail and roads. We also need to have good rail traffic which I think is a problem throughout the state– a lot of rail lines are being pulled. It’s a problem up here as well – we’ve lost rail service going south of Lewiston going south to Grangeville those lines have been pulled and it’s tough to keep them open – going out as far as Kamiah. Now most the traffic is between here and Orofino. It’s really unfortunate, most the rail line still in place running along Highway 95 is simply being used to store rail cars.
So the most important element supporting the Port is?
Truck traffic -- what we’re mainly concerned with is the condition of Highway 95. We’re closer to Canadian markets than we are to Boise, so it’s important to improve those highways. Probably the biggest deterrent today is the condition of Highway 95 as far as getting goods into the Port. Swift Transportation has a base out of Lewiston – they have about 500 trucks based out of Lewiston. They still direct a lot of their traffic through Washington and Oregon to get to Southern Idaho in order to avoid Highway 95 and that’s even with the improvements that we’ve seen and there have been significant improvements in Highway 95. But we still have a long ways to go –but Garvey Bonding is in place and we’re hopeful that improvements will continue to be made and that will help with some of the safety concerns that these trucking companies have with Highway 95 and help with the cargo traffic into the Port Lewiston.
So what's shipped out of the Port these days?
The majority of what we ship out here would fall into the paper products that are manufactured by Clearwater Paper, formerly Potlatch. Also Peas and lentils grown in the area and container loads as well as bulk loads of wheat shipments. Whitman Co. WA is the largest grain producing county in the US – just right next door. This is a niche market in that we grow soft white wheat and we grow peas and lentils –none of which is consumed in the US. Soft winter wheat is a commodity used for crackers and noodles in Asian countries along the Pacific Rim. The peas and lentils are a good protein source and not a lot are consumed in the US so we ship most of it to Pakistan, Peru, and Turkey. We’ve developed a niche market over the last 35 years that everything we grow within a hundred miles radius is exported overseas. The port allows us to cater to export markets.
The Port of Lewiston watched the Transportation Fight at the Statehouse, why?
People think we're just in the shipping business from the Port, but it has to get it here first. Because of that road issue we’re missing out on potential products that could come out of Southern Idaho or Canada that could be shipped out of the Port – we still have areas of concern along 95 and the northern side – above Sandpoint to the border has really tight areas when it comes to trucking. Truckers will look for alternate routes to get their loads downs. Truck weights are an issue too, because we have lower truck weights in this state, so that makes it more difficult to get your cargo around Idaho.
So connectivity has a completely different meaning up here?
Think of it – what other state has a single, two-lane highway connecting us with the rest of the state? We don’t have rail, our air service is difficult, it's hard to get here but once here we can ship to the world and cheaper than any competitor, all we have is the single two-lane highway – we can have snow slides in the winter and get cut off from each other and some people may think that’s good thing but when you’re moving cargo it’s not a good thing. We definitely have hurdles to over come.
You can't do much to improve Highway 95, what can you do?
We’re looking to expand our container dock – we have one 120 foot in length and a normal barge is 260 feet long. Right now when a tug comes up they drop off a barge and they leave the one barge and all we can do is work that one barge until they return – usually 48 hours later. With the expansion – we’ll be able to work two barges and double the capacity of the volume we can move across the container dock.
So turn around time becomes critical to growth?
That makes a big difference in sail times – the times the cargo ships leave Portland. For instance if a customer needs to get his cargo to Portland on a specific date to make the sail time. If we don’t have the capacity to get the containers on a barge we have to roll that traffic and customers here can lose a sale.
Washington's new truck weight rules could benefit the Port, how?
"We have some new opportunities now with oversize cargo from three different areas – The Port of Lewiston could be called on to move heavy cargo to the oil sands area in Alberta Canada the second largest oil reserve in the world right now. Also Wind turbines built overseas destined for the mid-west, and also coal equipment destined for Wyoming. A lot of this equipment is manufactured in China or South Korea. Because of the trucking laws it’s almost impossible to get these trucked across Washington so they're looking at the Port as a way to get this cargo to the interior of the mid-west. This cuts a significant mileage off the movement of cargo. The Port has talked to Shell, Exxon and Conoco and several large oil companies about moving this equipment though here.
Can the Port handle all the new,upstream cargo?
That’s another reason for the dock expansion. It’s a $2.7 million expansion. We’ve received a $237-thousand in federal appropriation to help with design fees, and the Idaho Rural Community Block grant program awarded us a $500-thousand dollar grant, and the Port contributed $250-thousand so we’re seeking 1.8 million Federal appropriation in the next go-around to see if we can’t come up with the monies to do this. The benefits are'nt just local – they’re regional and national. Job creation may be minimal at the Port but it has the ripple effect -- for instance these modules coming in headed for the oil sands are about the size of a double wide trailer and they require electrical work – heavy electrical switches so you’ll see electrical contractors working at the Port to wire them as they come through. Or if you are able to expand the dock and that allows farmers to compete in providing containers of wheat overseas then you’re helping that farm family stay in business. It’s not just the new jobs created but the retained jobs so it’s a big net that’s cast in the amount of people affected by the amount of shipping that goes through the Port.
How do rates compare with competitors?
If you move bulk wheat – the rough numbers are a third of the cost of using rail and about a fifth of the cost of trucking, those savings go back to the farmer and allows him to compete. Nampa is the same distance as Lewiston to Portland and on shipping costs – when selling wheat they’ll tell you its so many cents off of a Portland price. So let’s say wheat’s selling at 5.00 so the farmer delivers it to the grain elevator in Lewiston he gets 31-cents off of the Portland price–To factor in the transportation cost out of Nampa you’re probably more in the 70 cent price range so that’s significant to farmers when you’re talking about almost triple the transportation cost.