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Port of Portland
Needs a Fix

by Editorial Board
Bend Bulletin, August 2, 2015

Importers and exporters in regions with smaller ports like Portland face the prospect of losing direct access to global trade lanes if shipping lines move to bigger rivals. The Port of Portland is in tough shape these days, and, unfortunately, its problems are rippling across the state.

Both the Korean Hanjin Shipping Co. and the Hapag-Lloyd company of Germany quit doing business at the port, taking with them nearly all the overseas shipping that was based there. They did so in large part because of a monthslong slowdown by the Longshore and Warehouse Union, whose members work at the port.

The slowdown began last summer as the union and ports up and down the West Coast negotiated a new contract. That finally happened in mid-February, and things returned to normal everywhere except Portland.

There, the lack of a contract was only part of the problem. The private company contracted to manage the port, International Container Terminal Services Inc., and the union had had problems going back years. The union charged that ICTSI was mismanaging the port and creating unsafe working conditions, among other things.

While the larger slowdown ended elsewhere, it continued in Portland and the two shipping companies pulled out this spring. That left shippers here in a pickle.

Now Business Oregon, the state's economic development agency, and others have begun looking for a way to ease the burden the loss of container shipping has placed on agriculture and other shippers. That's good: Some 40 percent of all agricultural products shipped in this state go overseas, according to the Capital Press newspaper. With additional shipping costs of up to $1,000 per container to go north to Washington, farmers are taking a real hit.

So far the group is looking for ways to avoid the port problem altogether, perhaps by short sea shipping, which would allow goods to move up the Columbia, avoiding Portland altogether. Those options are likely to take legislative action, however, and could take months or more to put in place.

Perhaps the best solution would be to get the Port of Portland up and running and persuade shipping companies to return, but that, too, is a lengthy process. Meanwhile, Gov. Kate Brown has $300,000 at her disposal to try to ease the burden on Pendleton potato growers and Ontario onion producers. Let's hope she doesn't have to spend it all.

Related Pages:
Supersized Cargo Skips Small Ports by Erica E. Phillips, Wall Street Journal, 8/3/15

Editorial Board
Port of Portland Needs a Fix
Bend Bulletin, August 2, 2015

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