Barging essential part of transportation network

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The Port of Walla Walla remains committed to ensuring our region has safe and reliable access to all forms of transportation.

We continue to work on four-laning U.S. Highway 12, retaining commercial air service and enhancing our rail infrastructure, which allows companies like Railex to ship Washington state produce to the East Coast in less than five days.

Often overlooked as an important transportation asset is barging.

On Aug. 19, the Union-Bulletin published a news article written by Lynda V. Mapes of The Seattle Times titled “Decline in barges on Snake River stokes dam debate.” The article asserts that a decline in shipments by barge on the Lower Snake River, under way for decades, has accelerated.

This assertion is misleading. A recent study by Eric Fruits, Ph.D., of Nathan Associates, Inc., indicates there is no evidence that commercial navigation is undergoing a long-run decline.

Freight traffic can vary widely from year to year. An examination of five-year averages smooths the yearly variations and shows that freight traffic has been relatively stable since 1983.

Fruits’ analysis also concludes that economic benefits from the barge shipment of grain are sufficient to justify the non-routine cost of dredging. Benefits derived from additional commercial cargo, the cruise ship industry, and tourism are additive to the benefits of grain barging.

Also, barging is the lowest cost, most fuel efficient and least polluting transportation mode we have.

The Columbia/Snake River System is important to the Walla Walla area. Northwest Grain Growers ships some 25 million bushels of wheat annually. Virtually all of that grain is shipped via barge to Portland/Vancouver area shipping terminals and then loaded onto oceangoing ships.

We also benefit from having fuel shipped into our region by barge.

The Times article correctly indicates that barge shipping helps keep rail shipping costs competitive. Fruits’ report indicates there is a well recognized economic benefit to competition from truck-barge transportation — normally resulting in a 20 percent reduction in rail rates for grain shipments.

Additionally, barging helps to minimize the congestion risk to the region’s already strained rail network.

The Columbia/Snake River System is a significant national waterway playing a key role in ensuring that our country’s farmers and manufacturers have the ability to export their goods in competitive international markets.

The Columbia/Snake River System is the number one wheat export gateway in the nation.

The Port of Walla Walla fully supports the continued existence of the Lower Snake River system of dams and reservoirs and the continued maintenance of the Columbia/Snake Federal Navigation System.

As an economic development agency, the Port fully supports and encourages the availability of all forms of freight transportation.

Mike Fredrickson has served as a Port of Walla Walla commissioner since 2006. He is a 1992 graduate of Washington State University with a B.S. degree in agribusiness. He is a co-owner of Associated Appraisers of Walla Walla and holds an MAI appraisal designation.

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