PORT ANGELES — Faced with the looming loss of the region’s only tanker topside repair company, Port of Port Angeles commissioners this week pledged to aggressively search for a replacement.
Shipping firms were just as surprised as port officials that Vigor Alaska LLC announced April 30 that it will shut down operation of its fabrication shop at the port’s 731 Marine Drive facility by July 31, throwing 10-20 employees out of work in Port Angeles.
“They are very concerned,” Mike Nimmo, port maritime business development director, told commissioners at their regular meeting Tuesday.
Owners of large tankers and other high-tonnage vessels “are very concerned there’s not a presence here” of topside repair, Nimmo said.
“They were kind of caught flat-footed. It kind of came out of the blue for them.
“As a matter of fact, those companies have been talking to Vigor’s management.”
While port Deputy Executive Director John Nutter was hopeful Thursday that Vigor might change course, there was no indication from the company that might happen.
Company spokesperson Benton Strong did not return a call requesting comment on Thursday.
Nimmo told commissioners he is meeting today in Port Angeles with representatives of a ship repair company that may initiate a joint venture with another company.
In a staff report, he said several companies have contacted port staff with an interest in leasing the facility, although no decision has been made to enter into a lease agreement with any of them.
“There’s lots of interest,” he told commissioners.
Nimmo said he has been reaching out to shipping and repair companies in an attempt to marry their needs and rent the 10,000-square-foot building, a short, protected forklift trundle away from the port’s 900-foot Terminal 1 pier.
“It’s job focus No. 1 for me at this point,” Nimmo said.
The port has generated more than $3 million in topside repair dockage fees since 2010, but the stream has been drying up.
Over four years, from 2010-2013, the fees totaled $1.5 million.
Over seven years, from 2014-2020, during Vigor’s tenure, they were a similar $1.5 million.
Year-to-date in 2021, they are $28,752, according to Nimmo’s staff report.
“Our volume in Port Angeles is down 80 percent compared to past operations,” Strong said in his April 30 email explaining why the company is leaving.
He said oil production has declined steadily over several years and that tanker companies are taking their topside work overseas.
The trend of reduced tanker traffic is not expected to rebound, Strong said.
Port Angeles serves tankers transporting oil from Alaska to Washington and down the West Coast.
“Recently, we determined the volume of current and projected future work is not enough to sustain Vigor’s Port Angeles operation, with these market conditions being specific to this location,” Strong said.
Vigor’s exit leaves 10-20 employees without jobs and Clallam County bereft of benefiting from the company’s payroll.
Wages were $70,000 to $90,000 per worker, Strong said in his email.
Topside repair has been conducted along the Port Angeles Harbor waterfront since the mid-1990s, Nimmo said.
Straits Marine was housed at the 731 Marine Drive site from 2010-2014, when it was purchased by Vigor.
Vigor generated lease revenue of $85,200 annually by renting the fabrication shop, two outside storage areas and 1,860 square feet of marine terminal warehouse space.
Nimmo said companies that will be affected by Vigor’s departure include Crowley Petroleum Services Inc. of Anacortes, Alaska Tanker Co. of Beaveton, Ore.; ConocoPhillips Polar Tankers of Houston, Texas; Olympic Tug and Barge of Seattle, Harley Marine Services, now Centerline Logistics Corp., of Seattle; The Vane Brothers Co. of Seattle and OSG Ship Management Inc. of Tampa, Fla.
Representatives of the companies could not be reached for comment Thursday.
“Ideally, any future tenant for the building would be an established marine repair company that currently works with many of the established vessel owners that have historically used [the] port’s terminal facilities for vessel repair and maintenance,” Nimmo said in his report.
Companies that have been contacted by port staff have said they are either concerned about Vigor leaving or that out-of-area marine repair vendors travel to Port Angeles to provide the services.
Port officials may purchase Vigor’s surplus equipment for a future topside repair tenant in a public, online auction June 23-29, they said.
Commissioners said they are willing to wait to find a new topside repair business for the space.
“The strategic value of that facility requires us to step back and not just get another tenant in there,” board President Steven Burke said.
“That’s critically important that we continue to support that asset and that investment at the port,” Commissioner Colleen McAleer said.
She and Commissioner Connie Beauvais agreed it would be shortsighted of the port not to make a strong effort to keep the same use at 731 Marine Drive.
“I’m 120 percent in favor of us working on this and trying to get another company,” Beauvais said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].