The Port of Newport and the local folks currently running it will probably get another two years to prove they can pull the port out of its financial doldrums and from the power struggles that have become common between the fishing fleet and others who want to use to port to move cargo in big ships.
Cargo and those ships that transport it up and down the west coast and overseas was the idea of former Port Manager Don Mann who, along with a very gung-ho port commission at the time, launched a vigorous effort to create a huge platform for cargo-loading cranes and cargo storage on what is now the only half-finished Newport International Terminal (NIT).
Efforts to begin cargo exports have been stalled for years. Meanwhile the commercial fishing fleet recently dramatically upsized their fishing vessels and as a result they are using the NIT, such as it is, as their home base.
The challenge for today’s port commissioners is to manage NIT operations so that the fishing fleet can get done what they need to get done, while not crowding out incoming and outgoing cargo ships bound for ports in the U.S. and overseas. Willamette Valley farmers, manufacturers and ranchers need to get their products to market and they don’t like the added costs of trucking it to Portland and other far away ports to get their products to their customers.
There is also another issue that has grown worse in the last few years, and that is freeways and bridges in northwest Portland are getting worn down very quickly from the gargantuan numbers of cargo trucks heading to and from the Portland Terminal. All that cargo swirling around the Rose City is forcing some carriers to truck their cargo north to ports in Seattle and Tacoma and south to San Francisco in order to speed up their products to market.
So, what to do? Can the Port of Newport at least partially come to the rescue? The answer is probably yes but those closely involved say it’s going to take some fancy dancing to get it done – something akin to scheduling miracles – all while the port also tries to upgrade or replace Port Docks 5 and 7, which are both in sad shape.
There has erupted some fresh thinking about ways to let port users have their cake and eat it too by enforcing very tight scheduling for both the fishing fleet and for cargo ships. A major Portland area operator “Teevin Brothers” wants to bring large canes to NIT – get them installed and start swinging loading booms – getting ships “loaded and outta here.” There’s also some talk that other sites around Yaquina Bay might be suitable for port expansion but environmental constraints will make such efforts tough to pull off.
So as things stand right now, it appears with the emergence of new energy at the Port of Newport and the impending arrival of a new port manager, things may turn around so that the port can bring about the changes it needs to improve the local and state economy thereby not forcing the state to step in and take over.