African Raven

The African Raven, the last log ship to come to Astoria, is loaded with timber at Pier 1 before heading to China.

Astoria Forest Products is scaling back at the Port of Astoria as the log exporter weathers a trade war between the U.S. and China that has dried up overseas shipments.

The company has no more ships scheduled after the African Raven, which left Astoria last week loaded with about 6 million board feet of timber destined for Lanshan, China. It recently sold a front-end log loader to Hampton Lumber and will vacate all but a small suite of offices in the Pier 1 building.

Logs loading

A worker aboard the African Raven directs a crane as it lifts timber from the shore and places it on the ship.

“We’re just consolidating, because we don’t have enough people to fill all three suites,” said Chad Niedermeyer, the Astoria Forest Products yard manager.

During the trade war, the Chinese have imposed tariffs on hemlock, the most common species exported from Astoria, along with Douglas fir and spruce. The tariffs have made buyers hesitant and mostly dried up timber exports, which account for between one-fifth and one-quarter of the Port’s operational revenue.

Astoria Forest Products has drastically cut back its workforce, and local longshore union leadership has reported having to travel farther away to find work. The Port has cut its staff by about four positions through attrition to help save money.

By the end of November, the Port will also move out of its newer offices on Pier 1 to the older Gateway Building, where the agency moved from several years ago.

“When revenues decrease, you have to find ways to cut our costs,” said Will Isom, the Port’s interim executive director and finance manager. “That’s part of the reason we’re moving back to the Gateway. Sometimes it’s coming up with a string of small things to move the organization forward.”

When the Port advertised its offices on Pier 1 for rent, it only took a couple of days to find a local company, Watershed Wellness, to lease the space, Isom said. He doesn’t expect the 1,500 square feet Astoria Forest Products is vacating to stay empty for long.

Niedermeyer and Isom are hopeful the trade war is ratcheting down after the most recent negotiations in Washington, D.C., during which the two sides struck a partial deal. The Trump administration agreed to halt a new round of tariffs scheduled for December, and the Chinese agreed to buy between $40 billion and $50 billion in U.S. agricultural products. But the purchase does not include timber.

Astoria Forest Products reached a deal with Southport Lumber Co. to load barges at the Port with logs from a state timber sale in Washington for shipment to a mill near Coos Bay. But the agreement represents a fraction of the revenue from shipments to China. Southport’s contract with Washington state wrapped up earlier this month, Niedermeyer said, but he expects the relationship to continue if there is more work.

Astoria Forest Products was formed in 2014 under Murphy Overseas USA, a company owned by the family of Dennis Murphy, a former shareholder in Eugene-based timber giant Murphy Co. The family had been looking to sell the company since before the trade war, but could not immediately be reached for comment.

Edward Stratton is a reporter for The Astorian. Contact him at 971-704-1719 or estratton@dailyastorian.com.

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