Portland, Ore., develops a role in Pacific shipping

The Port of Portland is pushing full steam ahead with ship repair and ocean shipping. It already boasts the largest cargo port in the Northwest and should have the region's first coal-loading facility in operation by July 1983.

The port's ship-repair yard is unique in being the first major publicly owned repair yard in the US. All work is done by private contractors, who in turn rent the port's repair equipment such as cranes and dry docks. The port maintains the yard and all major equipment, provides utility services, and moves ships to be repaired on and off the yard's dry docks.

Recently, the US Navy sent a missile destroyer, the Wilson, to the repair yard. The successful bidder for the Navy repair job, Northwest Marine Ironworks of Portland, will employ some 450 workers on the job for a period of at least a year.

It is the port's $17.5 million Dry Dock 4 - its newest - that is used for repair of the supertankers hauling oil from Alaska to West Coast terminals.

Most recently, the tanker ARCO Spirit, 1,100 feet long and 178 feet wide, was in Dry Dock 4. At 262,376 deadweight tons it was the largest such vessel ever to use the dock and just about the largest that can be handled. The 982-foot dry dock, built in Japan in 1978 and the largest tow ever to cross the Pacific Ocean , has been in almost constant demand since its arrival.

In the shipping area, more then 12 million tons of cargo move across the port's docks each year, including such products as wheat and other bulk commodities, lumber and logs, and a wide variety of general cargo for export. Imports are dominated by automobiles, which in 1981 hit a record 266,926, just a shade over the 1980 total of 266,578.

Two 1981 high points for the port were contract signings. One was for the private construction of the coal-loading facility. The other contract was with the Japan Six Lines Consortium for a preferential berthing agreement at the port's full-service container terminal. The consortium has been the port's largest customer, moving more than 364,000 tons through the Port of Portland in 1981.

Ground was broken for the $60 million coal port on March 1, 1982, and the facility is expected to be in operation by July 1, 1983. It will mean some $20 million in rental and other income to the port over the life of the facility.

Perhaps most important is the port's Marine Terminals Master Plan which envisions tripling of the port's cargo volume by the year 2000, when the total is expected to reach 22,800,000 tons a year. The plan looks on general cargo movement ''as the highest priority. . . in the years to come due to its impact on the local community.'' Although general cargo accounts for only 17 percent of the movement through the port ''it produces 50 percent of the economic benefit to the community.''

With the Marine Terminals Master Plan providing for 18 new ship berths - one a year through 2000 - at a total cost of $270 million, port executives in March made plans to ask voters' approval of a three-year, $42 million serial levy to pay for improvements at the first two terminals.

(Under the port's charter, the port receives some of its operating funds from the property taxes collected in adjoining Washington, Multnomah, and Clackamas Counties.)

But because it would raise taxes on a $60,000 home by about $29.40 a year, some Port Commission members felt it might possibly be rejected because of the current poor economic climate.

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