The Columbia River Steamship Operators’ Association has warned of possible litigation over a $300 fee the Port of Astoria will start charging each ship passing upriver in July.

The association represents regional shipping interests. Kate Mickelson, the association’s executive director, sent a letter Monday to the Port asking that the fee approved by the Port Commission in March be overturned.

Ships on the river

The Port of Astoria is set to start charging each ship passing upriver $300 to help maintain Pier 1 as an emergency pullout.

“We are confident when we say that the river community does not support the Port’s action,” she wrote. “The (association) will employ full resources to oppose this action if we cannot find an alternative.”

The fee comes at a time when the financially strapped Port is searching for ways to address deferred maintenance. Port staff estimates $480,000 is spent each year maintaining Pier 1, where the Coast Guard periodically orders ships in need of repair. The $300 fee was calculated based on an average of 1,500 ships per year passing upriver.

The Port and its maritime attorney, Michael Haglund, argue that the pier’s availability as an emergency pullout justifies the Port charging shipping companies. But the steamship association argues that the Port’s fee will set a precedent for others along the river.

“If others choose to follow, the fee assessments will ripple into an economic calamity to shipping in our system and impair the lifeblood of our regional economy,” Mickelson wrote.

She invited Jim Knight, the Port’s executive director, to a luncheon next week with the association’s board of directors and other regional port representatives at the offices of law firm Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt to begin discussions on an alternative.

“We hope and trust that we can turn this circumstance into a helpful exercise, and avoid potentially long and expensive challenges ahead,” she wrote.

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

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