New shipping trade route opens with Williams Port

• Barge shipments from Homer to Iliamna-area villages first step in regional trade

By Naomi Klouda
Homer Tribune

Photo provided

Photo provided

Following fuel prices last year that rose to $9.25 per gallon in several remote villages across the Inlet, an arrangement between a small Native corporation and Homer Enterprises allowed this year’s gasoline and heating fuel prices to level off at a more manageable rate.
The villages of Iliamna, Newhalen, Kokhanok, Pedro Bay and Nondalton paid less this winter for fuel, with an adjusted cost of $6.75 for gasoline and $6.50 a gallon for No. 2 fuel in Kokhanak and various prices in the other villages that gave a better break over the previous winter’s costs.
“What made our prices higher the last three years was that we had to fly in the fuel after the (Crowley) shipping company quit coming here,” said Kokhanok Village Administrator Nathan Hill. “And now the price of fuel has dropped statewide, in conjunction. Another big factor was that we could only buy 2,000 gallons at a time.”
Kokhanok loaded up with 50,000 gallons of diesel and 5,000 gallons of gas in two shipments this summer and fall from the Iliamna Development Corp.
Each of the other four villages on the rim of the 70-mile Iliamna Lake also received the barged fuel and are set for the winter after the IDC was able to deliver 22 barge loads of freight and fuel this summer-fall.
As scientists complete environmental studies during pre-feasibility work at the Pebble Project, one of the plans discussed was using Homer as a possible staging area for receiving construction and other supplies for the proposed mine. Small enterprises such as IDC’s barge investment are working out some of the kinks ahead of time, though that wasn’t the initial goal.
IDC, the for-profit village corporation headed by Lisa Reimers, has expanded to provide economic opportunities for the region through its jobs program. In addition to construction contracts, it handles most of the hiring for the Pebble Project, which has now employed some 120 people for most of the past four seasons. Now, thanks to a $1.72 million loan for the barge, tank farm and equipment, IDC purchased the Polar Bear Barge, hoping to make freight and fuel less costly. Transportation comprises road travel and barging on waterways.
“Homer provides the closest link we have to the road system and to bulk fuel. It’s the most obvious spot there is,” said Steve Reimers, project manager for the Iliamna Development Corp. “The less transportation you do with fuel, the less expensive it is. Homer is the closest spot.”
The 150-foot Polar Bear Barge has critical timing requirements set by mother nature. The barge must leave after high tide from Homer, and be there in front of the port by the next high tide at Williams Port.
That’s a 24-hour turnaround time, with tides running 12 hours apart.
Crowley Transportation used to take a barge through the Kvichak River, but apparently found it wasn’t cost effective.
“It was unsafe and it was expensive. I don’t blame Crowley for abandoning it,” Reimers said. “We chose another route to get away from the headache.”
This route uses a combination of the 17-mile road from Williams Port to the villages, and a barge.
Several issues remain to be sorted out to simplify the prospect, such as developing port support services at Williams Port.
“It takes a project, no matter what it is, to get an economy out there,” Reimers said. “It takes a big contract and economy to sustain the plan. Otherwise, the business plan fails fast.”
Volume is the key.
Shipping fuel into the area entails small volume, but once Pebble was added into the picture, “suddenly the volume is different,” Reimers explained. “There’s no mine, but it allows us to haul lumber, propane, fuel – anything that makes a living out there cheaper and easier is what we are trying to do.”
This brings a purchasing-power that small villages – each with a population hovering at 100 or less ­– never had before, he said.
The barge handles helicopter fuel for the Pebble Project and ships in some equipment. Reimers said the villages are IDC’s biggest customers, though it took a Pebble contract “to make the business plan work,” he said.
Reimers estimates the fuel purchases in Homer around $650,000 for this first season, hauling 22 barge loads. Since the pick-up point is Homer, other commerce is taking place as well, such as orders placed at Spenard Builders Supply here for lumber to be sent to the villages.
“I agree that Homer has become the staging area,” Reimers said. “We’re looking at the lay of the land, we’re flying people back and forth. And we buy a lot of hotel rooms.”
The Homer Port and Harbor also benefits in dockage wharfage fees, said Harbor Master Bryan Hawkins.

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Posted by on Oct 14th, 2009 and filed under Business, Headline News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

6 Responses for “New shipping trade route opens with Williams Port”

  1. Susan Tyler says:

    Good work, Iliamna! When ever a village figures out the solution to economic problems in the villages, it’s going to be a much better solution than anything outsiders will think up.

    Good luck to you, and to Homer for a new economic relationship. Now, if Petro would make sure its economic stimulus trickles down to the consumer at the Homer gas pump, that would be all the better.

  2. Chetto says:

    All sounds good, however what IDC seemed to leave out was the fact that on their first fuel shipment that had a rather large fuel spill next to a major salmon river. (posted June 8, 2009 in ADN) It was over 2 months befor clean up of contaminated soil was moved out of the flood plane, where it had flooded two times caring fuel down river into lake Iliamna. Fuel still continues to seap out into the river. And the port in williamsport is private property to which IDC will not talk with land owners. And other not so legal things continue to take place. So what I am saying is watch out for the fox in the hen house.

  3. Banya says:

    Articles like this amaze me…this may be the facts as you know it, but here is some history….
    In the 1930’s Carl Williams (hence the name Williamsport) started a boat & freight hauling business from Williamsport (Iliamna Bay) to Pile Bay over the 15 mile road! This business still EXISTS today and is run by Carl’s son & grandson. The family has continued this without the backing of a Billion dollar mine group or a native corporation. The Williams family has continued this business with their own hard times and pride. This has helped and accommodated fellow fishermen and the native villages. Pile Bay was a village also in the 1940’s. Pile Bay has supplied the locals with lumber to build, fuel and lending a hand when many were in need of help on the mountain road for MANY years. The Pebble mine has come into the area and now tried to take over any business the Williams’ have worked hard to continue since the 1930’s. And in the last 75+ year they have helped to fulfill the needs of all the local villages. I do understand the fuel cost has been an issue, but until the entire state seen a rise in fuel costs the Pile Bay business was just like any other fuel business. One subject so conveniently missed is the fact that while one of IDC fuel tankers of diesel was parked by the “world famous Iliamna River” their tanker collapsed and spilled 2500+ gals of diesel fuel into the ground and river stream. See Anchorage Daily news article (http://www.adn.com/news/environment/story/824149.html) But it seems due to the fact that they have “millions” of dollars the issue has just been swept under the rug. It is heart breaking to know what a greedy place the Iliamna Lake area has become since the Pebble Mine arrived with MONEY. So for the record, this is not a “NEW” shipping trade route this was started before Reimers or Shivey were even BORN!

  4. Kathy Stevens says:

    No matter what an Alaska Native people try to do to help themselves through economic hard times, there are lots of white people like the Williams to put them down. No doubt the previous comments came from their camp. Greedy prices such as they want to pass along weren’t working – so face it, the economic realities came to the forefront.

    This is “new” in the sense that it is a route between Homer and Williams Port. It is “new” in the sense that it is a small village corporation doing the work. It is “new” yes in part because of Pebble. The billions of dollars spent by environmental groups to beat down Pebble could be used to help small villages trying to survive, people trying to survive, but instead they like to throw their money in the water of public opinion, not to help people so that they don’t need the employment of a big mine. It’s obvious that no matter what mistakes a small village corporation makes, no matter what they try to do to make a difference in their lives, there will always be the people who love the trees better than their fellow man.

  5. Stephanie says:

    I believe that the environment and the well being of everyone should be taken in to concideration. It doesnt matter if you are native or white (as the above stated) what matters is what is wrong or right. When you have a fuel spill in a pristine river and lake, you should be held accountable for it. Not just because you have a corporation background that you should not have to face the fact and pay the fines.
    Here in Homer barges have gone from Homer to Williams Port before Pebble, so I dont see anything “new” there.

  6. iliamna resident says says:

    Lisa Reimers maiden name is Anelon. Her mother ,sister and brothers are board members of Iliamna Natives Limited , Iliamna Village Council and Truth about Pebble. Iliamna Natives Limited received 69,000 acres of land by way of ANSCA. If Pebble wants a road to Cook Inlet it will pass through their ANSCA land. If Pebble wants Iliamna’s “social license” it will come from Iliamna Village Council. Lisa claims that her company is making life cheaper in Iliamna yet she owns no home in Iliamna. Lisa moved back from Oregon to start Iliamna Development Corp and she chooses to live in Anchorage where her company has offices in the same building as Pebble. So much for Sean Magee’s statement in a letter to Senator Jay Ramras that we use only established business’s with years of experience to fulfill our service contracts. Another untruth by Pebble? Maybe someone other than a non-resident should talk to the Homer Chamber of Commerce about living in Iliamna?

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