Port of Olympia Emerging as Transshipment Center for Barged South-bound B.C. Timber

“The Port of Olympia – the southernmost deep-draft port on Puget Sound – is emerging as a transshipment center for Canadian timber on its way to mills in Oregon and Northern California.Barge loads of logs originating as far away as British Columbia’s northern coast are being received at the port’s marine terminal, where the timber is transferred primarily to rail cars for economical transportation to mills.“We provide a good shipping connection for barging the material as far as it can go on the inland waterways route to Olympia and then putting the wood onto rail or truck for the mills to the south,” said Jeff Dickison, Port Commissioner.Dickison said that the port is well positioned to provide this service due to its southern Puget Sound location, excellent rail ties, marine terminal facilities, and a progressive longshore work force.“We have an outstanding work force for handling the materials safely and efficiently,” Dickison said. “And we have been improving our rail capacity to move more cars,” he added.“Our longshore labor is very experienced with log handling,” said Jerry Mahoney, the port’s marine terminal manager. “We can discharge up to 500,000 board feet in a single shift with one gang.”The port recently completed major improvements to its rail car capacity at the marine terminal. The facility can now dispatch and receive 30 cars at a time, compared with a dozen cars prior to the improvement project, Mahoney said.A longshore-operated, port-owned switch engine assembles rail cars for fast, efficient retrieval by the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe or Union Pacific railroads. So far, the UP has been transporting most of the transshipped logs.“Because of our location, the rail transit is as short as possible to southern Oregon and northern California,” Mahoney said. “Customers can get the lowest rates and fastest transit times” by transshipping their Canadian timber via Olympia.”Dickison and Mahoney said the trend toward transshipping Canadian timber through Olympia is being driven by several factors:- Constraints on harvesting of timber within the U.S. Pacific Northwest. As a result, U.S. mills are purchasing more of their raw material in Canada.- Favorable exchange rates. The Canadian dollar has slid in value against that of the U.S. dollar, making Canadian timber importing more affordable.- Economic and environmental benefits of barging. Transporting timber from more distant sources in Canada favors barging over rafting of logs. In addition, emerging environmental rules are making log rafting less economical. Plus, barging is an all-weather mode of transportation.“During the winter, rafting doesn’t work well,” Mahoney said. “The rafts get stuck due to storms.”Accounting for the initial barging of Canadian timber to Olympia is Sea-Link Marine Services, of New Westminster, B.C.“The Port of Olympia is an excellent place” for bringing in logs for transshipment to U.S. mills,” said Peter Brown, Sea-Link’s president. “We have excellent cooperation out of the port for discharge.”Turnarounds are quite quick for the barges whose loads range between 4,000 and 8,000 cubic meters, or from 4,500 to 9,000 tons, Brown said.“Much quicker delivery” is the main advantage log barging has over rafting of logs,” Brown said. That’s particularly the case, he said, during winter when poor weather restricts raft movements.Brown said Sea-Link commenced operations in 1988 with a single tug and barge, and now operates five tugs and about a dozen barges.With the Port of Olympia emerging as a transshipment point for Sea-Link and more mills becoming aware of the potential advantages of log barging, the port is receiving inquiries regarding possible transshipping of logs arriving by barge from Alaska as well as additional sources in British Columbia, according to Mahoney.“There are a lot of towing and barge companies that are looking to get into this business,” Mahoney said.“We see a continued increase in this kind of north-south, transshipment traffic to augment trans-Pacific shipping through the port,” Dickison said.”