Port of Lewiston May
by Elaine Williams
COVID-19 restrictions may prevent boats from calling on Clarkston, so companies explore options
The Port of Lewiston could play a key role in accelerating the return of overnight passenger cruise boats to the region.
Two cruise boat companies, American Cruise Lines and American Queen Steamboat Co., may want to temporarily berth at the Port of Lewiston because of COVID-19 restrictions that prevent the vessels from docking in Washington right now, Port of Lewiston Manager David Doeringsfeld said at a meeting earlier this week.
For more than two decades, overnight passenger vessels have called at the Port of Clarkston, with the itineraries often start-ing in Portland and including stops along the Columbia and Snake rivers.
In 2020, no boats were on the route because of the pandemic; but this year, cruise companies are eager to return to regular business at a date not yet established, he said.
"The cruise boat lines can dock on the Oregon side," Doeringsfeld said. "They're looking at trying to resume some operations."
Whether the logistics will work isn't clear. Dates starting May 20 that American Cruise Lines officials have mentioned conflict with when Alta Forest Products will be loading logs bound to its fence manufacturing plant in Chehalis, Wash., Doeringsfeld said.
Those arrivals and departures would have to be coordinated with shipments of sawdust or chips heading to Clearwater Paper in Lewiston, as well as any dates American Queen Steamboat Co. might request, he said.
"It's going to be a little difficult to try to accommodate the cruise boats and be able to accommodate our tenants," Doeringsfeld said. "We're trying to get everybody talking right now."
Once Washington lifts its COVID-19 precautions, the boats likely will go back to Clarkston, he said, noting that the Port of Lewiston didn't pursue the requests from the cruise lines.
Until the pandemic started, the cruise lines were a robust, growing industry, generating $4 million in revenue for Lewiston-Clarkston Valley businesses in 2019, according to a study from a consulting firm.
Passengers, in some instances, pay in excess of $8,000 per person for the voyages.
Cruise boat lines anticipate that demand will be even stronger after COVID-19 recedes and they have begun making preparations, such as ordering new boats, said Jaynie Bentz, assistant port manager.
At least one cruise boat company has approached the Port of Lewiston about the possibility of a partnership to add a dock if the number of vessels were to grow so much the Port of Clarkston wouldn't have room for all of them, Doeringsfeld said.
"This isn't taking anything away from the Port of Clarkston," he said. "With the expansion and everything they have coming on, they know they're going to need additional docking space."
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