Shipping Container Service At Port Of Portland To End In October

The Port of Portland has announced that it will cease shipping container service after October, citing financial feasibility concerns. The decision comes after a deal with a third-party operator fell through, leaving the port unable to sustain the costs associated with the container terminal. Despite increased business, rising costs have pushed the port’s container facility into a deficit. Over the past three years, the Port of Portland has incurred losses exceeding $30 million, including an estimated $14 million shortfall for this year, according to a news release from the agency.

This development is a significant blow to the region’s economy and leaves Portland as the largest city on the West Coast without convenient access to container service. Labor disputes and logistical challenges in navigating container ships upriver to a relatively small market have made Portland’s Terminal 6 less competitive as a transit point for container goods over the past decade.

Port officials reluctantly announced the end of container handling, acknowledging the facility’s importance to the region. Consumer electronics, furniture, toys, manufacturing materials such as lumber and wood products, and agricultural resources like grass seed, hay, and animal feed are among the items typically shipped through containers. The closest alternative shipping container terminal is located in Tacoma, Washington.

The Portland Medium received information from Mayor Wheeler’s office expressing its commitment to working with the Port of Portland and government partners to ensure that companies have access to alternative trading channels. While Terminal 6 may not have been as large-scale as other ports along the West Coast, it has historically served as a vital lifeline for small businesses and farmers throughout the Northwest.

Over the years, thousands of metal shipping containers have passed through the port, transporting crops like hay from the Willamette Valley and peas, beans, and lentils from farmers in eastern Washington and central Idaho’s Palouse region. However, container operations at Terminal 6 have experienced disruptions before, notably in 2015 when major carriers representing the majority of the port’s container services ceased calling on Portland due to labor disputes and delays in loading and unloading ships.

In 2019, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) was found guilty of unfair labor practices, resulting in a significant monetary award to ICTSI Oregon, the terminal’s former operator. Subsequently, the union declared bankruptcy, and ICTSI reached a settlement with ILWU in February 2024.

Although Terminal 6 experienced a temporary surge in business during the pandemic due to global shipping challenges and backlogs at other West Coast ports, the decision by BNSF Railway in 2022 to end service between Terminal 6 and Seattle/Tacoma resulted in decreased revenues that could no longer cover the majority of operating costs.

The Port of Portland has been unable to secure a company willing to lease and operate its container operations, leading to the decision to end container service on October 1. The port and city officials will now focus on exploring future uses for the terminal and finding alternative solutions to support trade and commerce in the region.