Columbia River and Bar Pilots
Tensions are mounting along the Columbia River as two groups of pilots serving inland ports are asking for rate hikes and as agents representing the steamship lines that pay the pilots remain adamantly opposed to the increases.
At issue are requests from the Columbia River Bar Pilots, who navigate vessels from the open sea across the treacherous Columbia River Bar, and the Columbia River Pilots, who guide vessels four to six hours upriver to the Port of Longview, Port of Portland and Port of Vancouver, USA. Five-year rate agreements with both groups expired last fall.
Although all parties involved are reluctant to discuss the most recent rate demands, they acknowledge that the bar pilots initially asked for a nine percent increase in fees, while the river pilots initially asked for hikes in excess of 60 percent. Both requests are slated to be considered by an administrative judge in late March. That judge will make a recommendation to the Oregon Board of Maritime Pilots in May, with the board expected to make a final determination later that month.
Gary Lewin, administrative pilot for the Columbia River Bar Pilots, says the rate hike for his group is necessary to pay for the transportation system that delivers bar pilots to oceangoing vessels as they approach the mouth of the Columbia River. Lewin points out that "the Columbia River Bar is the worst bar in the world. If they want us to come across it, they need to pay for the equipment," he said. "Without the equipment, we would not be able to work in the winter. Most ports shut down in the conditions we work in almost daily."
With equipment costs remaining fixed, and cargo volumes down, reductions in traffic have resulted in lower wages for the bar pilots, Lewin said. Bar pilots typically earn about $200,000 a year.
Not everyone is buying Lewin's arguments.
"Everyone in this industry has tightened their belts. Why should these people get raises?," asks Jim Townley, executive director of the Columbia River Steamship Operators Association, who represents 35 steamship lines, tug companies and ship agents that use Columbia River ports.
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