By Rolf Boone, March 12, 2013, The Olympian
The Port of Olympia Commission decided Monday night to surplus only one of its two marine terminal cranes, bowing to concerns that a port without cranes may not be as marketable to shippers.
Another concern is that one crane is home to nesting peregrine falcons.
The two structures, each approximately 190 feet tall, have been fixtures at the port since 1996. They were busiest when the Russian container line Sunmar used them to move containers through the port in the late 1990s, but that relationship ended when the Russian economy failed.
The Port Commission decided Monday to surplus and put up for bid the Paceco crane, which is just north of the Star crane. The Star is home to the falcons.
As part of Monday’s meeting, port finance director Jeff Smith proposed that the port surplus both cranes, citing a recent consultant’s report that they are obsolete and in need of electronic parts.
“They were fine for their day, but they have gone past their useful life,” Smith told the commission.
The cranes were purchased used from the Port of Los Angeles in 1996 for $4.4 million – an expense that included the cost to transport and upgrade them in addition to the base cost of $583,000. The port already has written off the book value of the cranes, which was $1.8 million, and the cost to remove them, which was about $400,000, Smith said.
But port Commissioner Jeff Davis opposed the idea of getting rid of both cranes, saying it would “severely limit the marketability of the port.”
“I’m trying to make a decision here on the marketability of the port in the long term, and that the cranes can be used with a little bit of investment,” he said. “And just because they are slow and obsolete doesn’t mean they aren’t functional. They certainly are functional.”
Others in the audience agreed, including Robert Rose, a business agent with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 47.
“Without cranes, you are not a marine terminal,” he said.
Rose also disputed the condition of the cranes but said he was willing to agree to an “unhappy compromise” to keep at least one.
He urged the commission to come up with a plan for replacing the cranes.
Another speaker, Patrick Beehler of Olympia, said the cranes were an insurance policy for the port. He recalled a conversation he had with a past port commissioner who said the cranes are useful when shipboard cranes fail. (Most ships that call on the port have cranes on board.)
The port will revisit whether to surplus the Star crane once the nesting season for the falcons ends in the fall.
Meanwhile, with one crane on its way out, the port has agreed to lease a mobile construction crane to serve PacArctic Logistics of Alaska, a new marine terminal tenant that will ship goods monthly to the Anchorage area by barge.
PacArctic President King Hufford III, who splits his time between Alaska and Yelm, attended the meeting to talk about his business and his reasons for choosing the Port of Olympia. Having at least one marine terminal crane on hand is key, he said.
“Backup is important,” Hufford said.