Former politician proposes Oregon Container Shipping Authority

Mannix

A former Oregon legislator and one-time Republican gubernatorial candidate thinks he has the answer to reviving container shipping out of Portland.

Kevin Mannix, who spent more than 10 years in the Legislature and ran for governor against Ted Kulongoski in 2002, wants to create a container shipping authority that would take over Terminal 6 from the Port of Portland. The authority would be in charge of re-establishing container business after the terminal lost its two main carriers, Hanjin Shipping and Hapag-Lloyd, early last year.

Without container service in Portland, Eastern Oregon producers are paying between $500-$1,000 more per container to truck their goods up to Tacoma, Washington. Locally grown agricultural products, such as potatoes, onions and hay, are all shipped overseas in containers.

On Thursday, Mannix traveled to Boardman, Hermiston and Pendleton to discuss his proposal — the Oregon Trade and Container Shipping Act — which he plans to bring to the Legislature in 2017.

“What I hear universally is that we need options. We need Terminal 6 operating,” Mannix said during a meeting Thursday morning at the Hermiston Conference Center. “To deal with this problem so far, people are spending more money to ship their products.”

Common Sense for Oregon, a political advocacy group founded by Mannix in 2009, has put together a draft version of the Container Shipping Act which Mannix is now circulating among the state Capitol and local communities for feedback.

The bill would establish the Oregon Container Shipping Authority, or OCSA, focused on restoring efficient container service to Portland. It would be run by a board of nine directors appointed by county commissioners from across Oregon. Potential directors would need at least three years of experience in shipping, international trade or imports and exports.

The Port of Portland would transfer ownership of Terminal 6 over to the OCSA, which as a public corporation would have the power to support projects, contract with other agencies and borrow money in order to support container shipping for Oregon businesses.

The OCSA could also renegotiate lease agreements with the terminal’s current operator, ICTSI Oregon Inc., and take action against anyone who illegally slows down operations.

“The shipping companies will want guarantees,” Mannix said. “We can set up a structure that can lead to this being capable of working.”

Port officials in Umatilla and Boardman were mostly non-committal about the bill itself, but agreed something needs to be done to get Portland’s container service back on track.

Kim B. Puzey, general manager at the Port of Umatilla, attended Thursday’s meeting in Hermiston. He said Portland used to have 12 ocean carriers in 1997, which has since dwindled to one: Westwood Shipping. That’s due to a number of factors, Puzey said, but most recently Hanjin Shipping and Hapag-Lloyd left Terminal 6 after slowdowns during contract negotiations between West Coast port operators and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

“This is an enormously complex issue that relates to the global economy, the domestic recession and the relationship between dock operators and union interests,” Puzey told the East Oregonian. “I am appreciative that someone has taken the initiative at the level (Mannix) has.”

Puzey said he was “intrigued” by Mannix’s presentation, but did suggest it should be port commissioners — rather than county commissioners — who ought to have a larger say in appointing the proposed OCSA board.

Puzey has also been a longtime advocate of short sea shipping, which would allow inland ports to bypass Portland entirely. Mannix said that could be something the OCSA ultimately discusses.

“Every container that doesn’t go down the Columbia-Snake River system goes down Oregon and Washington highways,” Puzey said. “Our waterways are extraordinary, and they are vastly underutilized.”

Gary Neal, general manager at the neighboring Port of Morrow, said their rail yard is currently handling containers arriving from the Port of Lewiston in Idaho. Though Neal did not specifically weigh in on this proposal, he did say he appreciated Mannix trying to identify solutions.

“Our main goal is to see services back in Portland that our shippers can take advantage of,” Neal said.

Mannix said his group continues to fine-tune their bill based on the feedback they get from local ports and producers.

“I see an opportunity for us here to do something good for Oregon,” he said. “The worst thing that could happen is if we do nothing.”

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Contact George Plaven at gplaven@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0825.

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