Testy crowd pressures commissioners for answers on purpose, feasibility of expanded dock
Megaload opponents and tax activists forced Lewiston port officials Wednesday to disclose how they expect to find customers for their recently expanded container dock.
Information, however, was the only concession offered at a lengthy, sometimes testy hearing. It ended with port commissioners passing a $1.9 million budget for the 2015 fiscal year without changing anything, including a $450,000 annual property tax levy for Nez Perce County residents.
Among the more than 15 people who attended the morning meeting was Linwood Laughy, a Kooskia-area resident and leader of megaload opponents. He met Port Manager David Doeringsfeld for the first time.
Carla Timentwa, chairwoman of the Nez Perce Tribe’s General Council, identified herself as one of the people arrested last year during megaload protests.
She wondered whether the port should be supporting activity in the oil boomtowns of North Dakota because of the violence associated with the rapid growth, which has victimized innocent bystanders.
Nez Perce County property owner Rick Rupp, who lives in Bend, Ore., had a different concern.
“I’m very disappointed, shocked and amazed this port did a dock expansion,” Rupp said. “I can see absolutely no justification for it.”
Doeringsfeld didn’t name any new customers that have used the dock since its length was more than doubled to 270 feet last year. The $2.8 million project was paid for with port and federal money.
That, however, will change in one, two or three years as the Port of Lewiston markets barging on the Columbia and Snake rivers to suppliers of the North Dakota oil fields, he said.
Many of the materials and equipment used in the oil fields are manufactured in Asia. They are shipped through the Panama Canal, then through Houston.
If those goods were to travel to the Port of Vancouver, Wash., and be unloaded at the Port of Lewiston, it would reduce the route by thousands of miles.
Ideally, Doeringsfeld said the products transported to Lewiston would need extra work such as welding, which would give rise to companies in the region with good paying jobs.
“We’re strategically (located) to take advantage of those opportunities,” he said.
While the port has $25,000 set aside in legal fees to keep informed about whether U.S. Highway 12 can be a potential route for megaloads, he said much of the equipment could be hauled in ordinary trucks.
The port is hopeful a compromise can be reached in the megaload debate so the highway could be used for all forms of commerce, while maintaining tourism and preserving cultural assets, Port Commission President Mary Hasenoehrl said.
Laughy sat silent during the megaload discussion. But he asked the port to correct information on its website he believes is inaccurate. That request prompted Port Commissioner Mike Thomason to ask Laughy about his credentials as an economist.
Laughy responded that he earned advanced degrees in psychology. Thomason apologized minutes later.
But that wasn’t enough for Will Godfrey, a retired agricultural economist.
“I think you were pretty rude,” he said. “You implied a psychologist can’t cut the mustard.”
In a related budget matter, port commissioners boosted prices at their container dock. General labor rose from $75 to $100 per hour, while general labor after normal business hours increased from $125 to $150 per hour. A $30 fee was added for instances when companies request photos to show the condition of their containers when they arrive at the port.
The fees apply to types of cargo other than those in containers, like megaloads, boats or other equipment. A similar photo fee of $90 per container hasn’t changed.
In other business Wednesday:
* Doeringsfeld said the port commission will decide if the LC Ice Arena can keep its port-owned spot at its next meeting at 7 a.m. July 9.
The port is considering not renewing the ice arena’s lease to make room for a manufacturing tenant.
“If you kick them out, you’re going to be as popular as a skunk at a lawn party,” said Bob Denevan of Lewiston.
* The port tabled a decision about giving EKO Compost a lease extension beyond the end of this year. EKO anticipates it will have about 35,000 cubic yards – or a three-year supply – of finished compost once it processes the biosolids and yard waste it’s required to accept from the city of Lewiston through the end of this month. The job of handling yard debris is shifting to a new vendor starting July 1.