Sunday marked the official opening of the estimated $5.25 billion effort to expand the 102-year-old Panama Canal. It took nearly 10 years to complete and with the first 984-foot Chinese container ship clearing the massive locks Sunday, it also marked a time of uncertainty for the Pacific Northwest ports.
The widened canal, with its new locks, can now handle ships carrying 14,000 containers - nearly three times the former capacity of the canal, which means that instead of having to call at Pacific Northwest ports they can just chug on through the canal to hit east coast ports, which puts their cargo closer to the final destinations while affording better access to agricultural products coming out of the American Midwest. In preparation, the deep-water ports of Seattle and Tacoma have formed the Northwest Seaport Alliance and have been working together under that umbrella to upgrade their facilities to handle the even larger ships now being constructed; those babies can handle 18,000 to 20,000 containers at a time, but even the newly-modified Panama Canal won't be able to accommodate them.
As a result, the ports of Seattle and Tacoma expect to be able to stay in the game. By contrast, the port of Portland's out of luck; the shipping lines that used to call at the port's Terminal 6 container facility were all driven away by the antics of the Portland chapter of the ILWU, and they're not coming back. The union boys here have done bullied their way out of their jobs with their repeated slowdowns, walkouts, and vandalism. Look for the (Portland) Union Label!