Port of Lewiston notches third straight year of financial losses

By Linwood Laughy, IRU member and board president at Advocates for the West

According to the Lewiston Morning Tribune and the Port of Lewiston’s recently released annual audit, the Port of Lewiston lost $501,234 in fiscal year 2016.

In fiscal year 2015 the loss was $401,917, preceded in 2014 by a loss of $445,497. Thus, in the last three fiscal years the port’s books show a business loss of $1,347,648. The Port manager argued that part of the losses are attributable to depreciation, suggesting that depreciation is not part of a profit-loss statement, while accepted audit procedures and typical business practices indicate otherwise.

Let’s put these losses in perspective. The Port of Lewiston annually receives about $430,000 in local property tax revenues and approximately $105,000 in sales tax rebates from the state because the the port is legally structured as a municipal government. The port also receives rents on its large property holdings in direct competition with the private real estate industry and income from the occasional sale of property.

FY2016 revenue included income from the last of the port’s container shipping. No containers have been barged thus far in FY2017, nor is any such shipping expected. As part of the port’s 2012 application for federal funding for its $2.8 million container dock extension, port officials projected a container volume in 2016 of 10,000 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units, a standard measure of container shipping). This projection followed a steady 79 percent decline in container traffic volume over the previous 10 years. In all of 2016 the port barged 49 TEUs of containers. Grain is now the only commodity still barged on the lower Snake River in any quantity.

Over the past 11 years the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spent $33 million on Lower Granite sediment management planning and dredging the Snake and Clearwater confluence and two miles up the Clearwater River. With no indication container shipping will ever return to Lewiston, an estimated 80 percent of this $33 million principally benefits a single private corporation that ships grain from its own property over its own docks.

Not included here is the $10-$12 million that taxpayers spend each year to operate the locks through which this grain passes or the many more millions spent on frequent major rehabilitation of the locks and navigation channel. Federal taxpayers also subsidize the production of the grain before heavily subsidizing its transportation.

Freight transportation on the lower Snake floats on a river of taxpayer money while supporters denounce the federal government and proclaim their allegiance to the free enterprise system. There are smarter, more cost-effective ways for modern-day commerce in the Lewis-Clark Valley.