Alaska weathered lockout squeeze fairly well

Posted: Tuesday, October 15, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Alaska weathered the West Coast dockworker lockout well, thanks to a deal brokered by the state's political leaders and increased truck, barge and air shipments.

Almost all available trucks in the state and Washington were pushed into service during the weeklong shipping shutdown that ended Oct. 4 when the Pacific Maritime Association agreed to hire longshoremen to load ships owned by Totem Ocean Trailer Express Inc. and CSX Lines LLC.

The Alaska-bound ships at the Port of Tacoma were being loaded under an exemption to the lockout for 29 ports along the West Coast.

Last week a federal judge ordered an end to the lockout for an 80-day ''cooling off'' period at the request of President Bush.

Meanwhile, convoys of trucks -- as many as 80 at any given time -- were en route to Alaska from Washington state during the weeklong shutdown, trucking companies said.

Normally, only a fraction of that amount of cargo comes over-the-road.

''We have options,'' Blaine Ghan, Anchorage terminal manger for Lynden Transport Inc., told the Alaska Journal of Commerce. ''No one is going to starve.''

The 2,400-mile trip from Seattle to Anchorage takes about 55 hours, said Harry McDonald, president of Carlile Transportation Services Inc., one of Alaska's largest trucking companies.

Carlile had as many as 35 trucks on the road ''as soon as we saw trouble start,'' McDonald said.

The Anchorage-based company generally has only a handful of trucks coming up from Seattle at any given time, McDonald said.

By various estimates, a third or more of produce shipped to Anchorage comes over the Alaska Highway by truck. That mode of transportation has taken a big bite out of waterborne produce shipments in the past decade.

Nearly all produce shipments to Fairbanks and to the North Slope come over-the-road directly from the Pacific Northwest, according to produce wholesalers.

Seattle-based Lynden's subsidiary, Alaska Railbelt Marine, also stepped up shipments during the shutdown, making more room on its barges for groceries and other products, according to Alaska Railroad Corp., a joint-venture partner with the shipping company.

Rail cars are loaded onto rail-equipped barges. Goods that come to Alaska by barge and are then transferred to rail usually only include bulky, time-insensitive supplies such as pipes and heavy equipment used in oil field operations and maintenance.

Ed Spaunhurst, president of Northland Services Inc., said barge shipments were doubled from Seattle to Anchorage during the shutdown, ''mimicking'' normal waterborne shipments, albeit slower. A day before longshoreman went back to work, Spaunhurst said the combination of truck, barge and air shipments -- while they didn't match the large cargo ships' capacity -- still kept Alaska supplied.

''The impact hasn't been too much on the state,'' Spaunhurst said.

While waterborne cargo has been reinstated for Alaska, dockworkers and shipping companies at 29 other West Coast ports continue to fight over pay and job-cutting technologies.

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