UMATILLA - The Port of Umatilla is getting ready to add a major new component to its container shipping capabilities, one port officials hope will take them into the next half century.

A new gantry crane, valued at $3.8 million, is being built for the port largely with funds granted from government appropriations committees in Washington, D.C., said Port Director Kim Puzey. Another $1 million will go into site work for the crane's location. Puzey said the new crane will bring the Port of Umatilla into a new era.

"This is a 50-year infrastructure," Puzey said. "We're building this for the next 50 years."

The port uses a container handler, a machine similar to a forklift, to stack containers, but because containers are so large - up to 40 feet long and 8 feet high - space on the dock becomes an issue.

The new crane is designed specifically with that in mind. The crane will be a gantry unit, capable of lifting weights of up to 40 tons from river barges and stacking them five-containers high on the dock.

"It has a long span that allows a single machine to store with high density on a relatively small amount of space," said Neil Skogland, a segment manager with Ederer Crane in Seattle, the company building the crane.

Ederer was one of the companies that put in a bid for the construction of a crane at the Port of Morrow, although it was not awarded the contract, Skogland.

The crane at the Port of Morrow, which was constructed by the Canadian firm Kaverit Steel, failed on a test run, resulting in the death of a Kaverit employee. Skogland said his company has done an evaluation of its own into what happened at the Port of Morrow and said there is no chance of such a tragedy happening with this crane.

"They are both gantry cranes," Skogland said. "That is where the similarities stop."

The crane is being pieced together in Seattle and will be shipped to the port for construction in February 2005, Puzey said.

The port's existing crane is a 64-year-old hoist unit purchased in 1991. Puzey said the crane has encountered numerous technical problems. He said the difference between the two cranes would be felt immediately.

"It's the difference between a scoop shovel and chopsticks."

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