Oct 132018

International Terminal on left. Google Maps

There’s a big meeting of the minds coming up Monday at the South Beach Activities Room on SE Marine Drive. Port of Newport Commissioners, staff, fishermen and hopefully local citizens and others will be trying to come to an agreement on a plan to move it in the right direction.

The last few years have been tough on the port – first building a big new International Terminal to handle huge international log shipments – mainly to the Far East, only to see efforts to finish the terminal, with all the necessary equipment, just slide away. With no ships coming and going, the local fishing fleet pretty much made the International Terminal their home for storing gear, changing gear and working on their boats.

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But that’s not what the International Terminal was built for. It was built for ever-increasing shipments of not only logs, but finished lumber, agriculture, manufactured products and wine from the Willamette Valley – just to name a few. The terminal, in no way can pay for itself, much less grow the local and regional economies, by relying only on revenues from the local fishing fleet. To add insult to injury, Port Docks 5 and 7, which used to get a lot of fishery use, sit largely idle – they’re in deep need of repair and for no small amount of money.

Port officials tell NewsLincolnCounty.com that the port is paying its bills but it’s going to take a lot more revenue to boost the port to the economic level originally envisioned when the decision was made to construct the International Terminal – which again is still not finished. On top of that, it’s been discovered that NOAA’s dock complex at South Beach needs a lot more dredging than was outlined in the original contract when NOAA set up shop in South Beach. The extra cost has been estimated at over a half-million dollars, along with possibly more frequent dredgings due to a change in the Yaquina River’s flow pattern.

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All this is coming to a head in Salem where top state officials are putting the Port of Newport under a magnifying glass. Interim Port Manager Teri Dresler says state officials were displeased with the Port when it had to turn back a multi-million dollar grant aimed at finishing the terminal. That was several years ago when a terminal operations contract couldn’t be worked out between a company that operates certain port facilities in Warrenton to do the same for Newport. Also, an offer from a Chinese-backed shipping conglomerate fell through when the port felt the company wanted, among other things, too much control over certain terminal operations. Fishermen at the time felt that the deal would have denied them sufficient access to the terminal to meet their needs.

Today the port is on it’s 4th Port Manager in the last six years. The turn-over of port commissioners has also been substantial. It goes without saying, revolving doors don’t get the work done.

As mentioned above, the port’s plight has not been lost on state officials. A certain amount of pressure is being felt at the port offices according to Port Manager Dresler.

A similar situation played out some thirty years ago, when a locally elected port commission, similar to Newport’s, ran the Port of Coos Bay. Similar circumstances to Newport’s evolved to the point that Salem stepped in, and after a local vote established a State Port Commission District. The local port commissioners were ousted. The governor then appointed their replacements declaring them “State” Port Commissioners – not local – “State.”

To be clear, a state take-over does wrestle local political control away from a community, but when, in the eyes of the state, which has millions upon millions of statewide tax dollars invested in Oregon ports, that is quite an investment to protect. Bankruptcy, or even low performance, is not an option. Today the Port of Coos Bay is a major seaport serving markets around the world. They even added a major commercial airport within the port district.

What will be the first of a long set of public meetings to determine the future of the port will debut Monday, October 15th at noon at the South Beach Activities Room, 2120 SE Marine Drive. The Port Commission will be considering the hiring of a consultant to help guide the discussions to get the Port of Newport out of the economic and leadership doldrums.

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