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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Smoke on the water

What do you think of the guys who want to dismantle ships in the Portland area? Now that they've been chased out of Newport, they're talking about coming up here. Obviously, there are some environmental concerns with an operation of this nature. But if Portland turns its nose up at it, it might wind up in Vancouver, Wash., anyway -- or elsewhere on the sales tax side of the Columbia. Astoria's also being mentioned.

I suspect we'll be hearing a lot more about this in the weeks ahead, and so if you haven't, start reading here. Meanwhile, those in the know, please fill us in on the pro's and con's.

Comments (20)

I cannot let a "Smoke on the Water" reference pass without this anecdote. As kids in Arabia we were scattered to boarding schools all over the world. Some friends of mine were at the famous concert in Switzerland where Frank Zappa was playing and the concert hall burned down. One buddy of mine even showed me pictures of it and indeed, smoke had drifted out over the lake. Of course, this event was later immortalized in a song by Deep Purple, but, dude, like they were THERE, man.

Hey! There's a great spot on the Willamette just south of the Marquam Bridge and just north of the Ross Island Bridge. I think it used to be a ship dismantling place and we wouldn't have to worry about them creating a toxic space, because it's already there!

How handy!

And all those residents in north side of the SoWhat towers could enjoy watching industrial processes at work.

It creates jobs. That oughta have PDC stumbling over themselves to accomodate.

Just tell them to check in with Peter Kohler.

there was some noise about putting it in Coos Bay, too. Not sure where that is now.

Well, the Linnton folks are a wee tad upset about it. The following is the text of an email Linnton Neighborhood Chair Pat Wagner is distributing far and wide today:


see todays oregonian front page "ship scrappers" & commentary p. D9

This is a situation that I would expect Mayor Potter to say something about, and PDQ.

i just find it interesting that its an Indian company who is looking to locate to the US.Have we become a third world country and India is doing the work here so they don't have to deal with the pollution?

kinda Bhopal in reverse.

I hope it does go to Coos Bay. They need it

However the Port of Portland saw 40% reduction in shipping container business in 2005.

The Port Commissioner better get back in the Port business.

Wouldn't it be funny if Foti (Cascade General) who was given the shipyards and drydocs for song by the Port commission ended up with a windfall scrapping business. Schnitzer must be working on this too. They're a global sized scraper you know.

Perhaps Zeidell will take it on and tarnish Homer's SoWa for decades.

Even a couple of cutting torches fired up and burning steel will produce an odor that many neighbors might find unpleasant. It may not be toxic, but anybody walking/living downwind will certainly be able to tell when they're working.

I assume the supply of west coast scrap vessels are too fragile or too small to consider transporting to India or Bangladesh (where the existing ship dismantling or "breaking" biz is headquartered). If you only have a couple of weeks labor, per ship, why go Asia?

great photo essay from Chittagong, Bangladesh if you click HERE

Or, just cut and paste the below link if the one above doesn't function:

As a candidate for City Council, I have to get in on this, though the pseudo-politician instinct in me says otherwise (I say pseudo-politician, because I don't intend to govern like a politician, but as an elected representative bounded only by the constitution, laws, and universal ethics that everybody should live by).

After struggling through my senior year at UO Lundquist College of Business and battling cancer at the same time, I was one of two candidates recruited by Toyota from a huge pool selected from Colorado University, Berkeley, and Oregon. That led me to the southern San Francisco Bay Area, from which I would commute home to Oregon across the Martinez-Benecia Bridge, from which one gets a close look at the rusting, ghost fleet in question here. I would have never believed anybody would seriously want to tow that garbage up to Oregon. I figured it would get blow-torched apart in the Port of Richmond, which always seemed to catch the brunt of shipping industry waste. Aparently not. A great question to answer at this point is the obvious one... If Bay Area labor is too expensive, why didn't it get taken down to Ensanada or another northern port in Mexico? Why didn't they shoot for Eureka? Why not head up-delta to Stockton? I don't have the answers to these questions, but the lack of answers suggest that the environmental hazard has deterred all takers. The Port of Portland should not risk for a second bringing those contaminated hulls into its fresh water port.

And (pay attention Bill McDonald) if I get elected, it won't be an altogether rare occurence that the music of Deep Purple is heard coming from my office on a late night. My love for orchestral rock from that era runs deep.

Ditto on Coos Bay. My sister moved there in 1972. The place was depressed then and it's never changed.

Plus, it's a saltwater port, rather than freshwater, like Portland.

Mr. Hinds:

I think environmental factors are not likely to be a shipbreaker's first priority when choosing a site. A site for shipbreaking requires a safe harbor and good water or rail transport links to a big steel recycler or three. All that scrap steel has to go somewhere, after all. The volumes (and masses!) involved mean that road transport is probably not a good idea. Most likely barge and rail are the only viable options.

I know Portland has at least one big steel recycler, so I'm assuming that anyone breaking ships in Oregon will be looking to get the scrap to there. (And I doubt they'd want to rely on barges of scrap steel crossing the Columbia bar.)

Eureka has rail, but it's a really long link to get to SF Bay, let alone to anywhere else. Coos Bay has rail, but it's a pretty long link to Eugene. Newport has a fairly short rail link to Albany. (Or at least nearby Toledo does.)

And, of course, anywhere on the lower Columbia would make for an easy barge or rail trip to Portland.

I think it's interesting that Portland is their second choice. I'm guessing they thought the land/labor situation in Newport would have made up for the bigger transport problem... but I'm kinda surprised that Coos Bay seems to not have the same advantage.

Mr DeWitt,

I should have prefaced my comments a bit more. The environmental hazards in question are the hulls which are encrusted with fungi and crustaceans that are not natural to Oregon's port habitats. The rejection of the project by Newport was based on this concern, and the parties were unable to reach agreement over the potential liabilities associated with the risk that non-native species might over-run the harbor and cause environmental damage or create hull-cleaning nightmares for boat owners. Many of the invasive species which have formed a habitat amongs the ghost fleet are not even native to Bay Area waters, or have been able to establish themselves as a direct result of industrial pollution in those waters.

In the Port of Portland, the risks are too dynamic. Any aggressive sponge or barnacle that can survive the fresh water could threaten the entire lower Columbia River and Astoria estuary.

If there was nothing but rust attached to the hulls and the biological risk did not exist, I would support bringing the business to Portland.

When asked, Potter responded with "I don't think there's much interest here in shipscrubbing. In my year in office I've gotten only one letter about it. Not on my watch."

Ah. Right. Just say no to zebra mussels. Got it.

Yep, that'd be a problem, all right. Although I'm not sure it's a problem unique to shipbreaking... it seems like any port which allows large vessels is going to be at risk for that sort of problem. How do cargo ships which call in Portland deal with it now? Why would the same procedure not apply to ships bound for the breakers?

I've seen these ships. I believe they are visible from the bridge on I-680, which cuts off I-80 between San Francisco and Sacramento, and extends down through Concord, Pleasanton and San Jose. I think the issue is that these ships have been sitting for years collecting various organisms on their hulls. Unlike ships that are in service and have friction on their hulls between periods in harbor, these have literally been caked with various organisms in an estuarial environment. It would be dumb to bring them into harbor without a thorough environmental impact study.

There was more than just invasive species. It was the facilities they were asking for. This is a federally subsidized program and the company wants further subsidies on facilities. There is no rail in Newport, but there is in Toledo - 7 miles upriver.

The oyster industry, sport crabbing, Alaska fleet that uses Newport to maintain their boats would be put out.

There were a lot of unanswered questions. And the funny thing is... the company just went somewhere else and viewed the Newport citizens as uninviting. Something is suspicious - government agencies saying invasive species is not their bag...

Neighbors not wanting to see it. It is a money losing proposition, except for the federal tax dollars propping it up. Is it good?


It's so much more than invasive species and the other problems your commentators have mentioned.

These ships were built from the end of WW II on. They are military and private shipping vessels held in reserve to move troops and materiel during a war. These ships have been replaced by cargo aircraft and are functionally obsolete.

While the shipbreakers want to recycle the steel, the ships are filled with asbestos, transformers are filled with PCBs. You cannot imagine the toxic stuff inside these ships.

Shipbreaking is a notorious industry throught the world. In some places like Bangladesh, ships are dragged up on the beach and torn apart by adult and child labor with no protective gear, no regulation, no compensation for injury.

Whatever wages it pays, this industry externalizes it costs by forcing the public to pay the cost of disposing of much of the toxic material in old ships.

This is fake economic development, only attractive to ill-informed, desperate communities.

i'm delighted you are keeping anopen mind, but don't go there. Shipbreaking has huge hidden costs the public effectively subsidizes offsetting any economci benefits.

My comment (and it's not naive) is that Oregon's Economic and Community Development agency failed pathetically to do their homework. I'm no ecologist, nor marine biologist, but understanding more than a little about the the "green" psychology and attitude that prevails throughout Oregon, for the agency to romance and promote this venture, with guv Ted's blessing, is unacceptable. Whether it's Newport, Coos Bay, Astoria or Portland, I can't imagine any of those port communities seeing any benefit in agreeing to take on such a venture. And here, close to home, where our port is already a superfund site, the PDC abets the state agency's wrong-headed choice of a biz dev candidate.

GAWD!....where is the leadership? Mediocrity pervades and prevails!

For a detailed description of shipbreaking and its environmental impact, read "The Shipbreakers" by William Langewiesche from the August 2000 Atlantic Monthly.

A link to the story is:


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