Storms slow delivery of goods, ships stacked up on Columbia River

Storms slow grain, stack up ships on Columbia

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Nearly a dozen ships off the Oregon coast near Astoria sit waiting for a chance to load grain and other items at the ports.

But there is no room. Nearly every dock along the Columbia and Willamette rivers are full.

The problem is a lack of supply. This is the busy season for shipping grains such as soybeans, wheat and corn from the Columbia River to the rest of the world.

But the recent snow and ice storms shut down much of the rail traffic that delivers the grain. So big ships sit empty, waiting for word grain to arrive.

It’s creating a massive traffic jam on the river. They've taken notice at the Port of Portland.

“When there's a problem, it's just like on the freeway, right? Things are going to back up. So, that's what we're seeing,” said Melanie Mesaros, a Port of Portland spokeswoman.

They’ve also noticed along the docks at the Port of Vancouver.

“It happens to some degree every year. There’s always hiccups. This one is probably as extreme as we’ve seen in a long, long time,” said John Todd.

Todd is Vice President of Operations for United Grain Corp. The company is a middle man, taking grain from rail cars and loading it in to ships.

On Wednesday, the company loaded a ship bound for Japan with a mix of grains called northwest soft white wheat.

The capacity is huge. It will load the contents of roughly 500 rail cars. But when the trains don’t run because of weather, the impact is quickly felt.

The ship has been in the river 23 days. That's 15 days behind schedule.

“The backlog starts to build, the ships don’t keep coming, they keep piling up and piling up,” said Todd.

“Its bad for the supplier, it’s bad for the end user, and it’s bad for the whole supply chain,” said Augusto Bassanini, CEO of Unite Grain Corp.

He now spends part of his day tracking trains, trying to nudge them along and troubleshoot logistics challenges with his deliveries.

“There are eight other terminals that are having the same issues as we are,” he said.

He noted the current ship will get its full load. But the next ship will not load until more trains arrive with grain.

“We are still in standby mode for the next vessel which is basically here ready to load, because we don’t know when we’re going to get be receiving that product for that vessel,” Bassanini said.

© 2017 KGW-TV


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