Source: Lewiston Morning Tribune
Author: Elaine Williams
Jean starts journey downriver; Sternwheeler finally catches a ride to Portland
LEWISTON â€“ Under tow from a Foss Maritime tug, a crew eased the steamboat Jean from its controversial parking spot at the Port of Wilma early Monday evening marking the start of the vessel's long awaited journey to Portland, Ore. The boat's owner, Vern Wilson, was on board until the Jean was about 50 feet from shore then hopped off with another person into a smaller boat and returned to land. Wilson told the Tribune he had no comment as he helped the four person crew prepare for the trip. "I don't want to talk to you. Leave us the hell alone. We have work to do.'' The Jean's final hours in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley were quiet and serene compared with the almost parade-like atmosphere that has surrounded many of the vessel's previous moves. Boats and personal watercraft occasionally lingered to watch. Foss crew members wearing life jackets paced the decks of the Jean, the aging sternwheeler that has charmed, frustrated and captivated residents of the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley since arriving here in the 1970s. They examined the 171-foot-long, 42-foot-high boat, untying a rope here, securing another one there. Aside from the deep hum of the tug's motor, the operation was silent as the Jean left the area near a cruise boat dock where it had been anchored for about a month. There were no shouts or last-minute frenzied activity. Only one onlooker was visible on shore other than members of the media. Mike Miraglio of Clarkston, an employee at nearby Guy Bennett Lumber, took pictures as the Jean left. He said he had been following what was going on with the Jean a little bit during the day and it just happened to be moving when he got off work. "It's been in town a long time, and I didn't ever think it was going to leave,'' Miraglio said. The tug took the Jean a little way downstream to an industrial dock where it was lashed next to a grain barge with two-inch rope and steel cable winch line. An empty barge for sawdust chips was also part of the tow. Then the tug pulled all three vessels -- the Jean, the grain barge and the sawdust chip barge -- into the water slowly. The tug turned around until it was pushing all three. By about 6:30 p.m., about three hours after the preparations started, the Jean was bound for Portland. If everything goes well, the Jean should in Portland in 50 to 60 hours from its departure time, moving 24 hours a day, said Gaylord Newbry, sales manager for Foss Maritime in Clarkston. Wilson has said previously that the Jean will be refurbished in Portland and then returned to the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. Aside from adding another grain barge at Almota just below Lower Granite Dam, no adjustments should be needed to the configuration, Newbry said. The dimensions of the load are such that it should travel easily through all the locks on the Snake and Columbia rivers, Newbry said. Until the last minute, Monday's departure was up in the air, Newbry said. Either of the crew's two captains could have rejected the Jean after it was connected to the grain barge, Newbry said. "It looks like it's all right. They feel comfortable the way they're tied.'' The move even surprised officials from the Port of Whitman County, which had filed civil litigation requesting the boat's removal. "I wanted to come down and watch it take off,'' said Robert Gronholz, chairman of the commission of the Port of Whitman. "So I guessed I missed it.'' A Foss Maritime customer who was running the grain barge to Portland assisted with the operation by allowing the barge to be loaded to the right level to tow the Jean, Newbry said. "It's bad for the valley, but I'm glad to see it get out of here because of all the headaches,'' Newbry said. "It seemed like nobody had the place to keep it here.'' Wilson appears to have met the challenge that eluded other owners of finding someone with the resources to renovate the Jean. Wilson hasn't provided any details about who that person is. Still, Wilson faced obstacles searching for a place to put the Jean. Most recently, it was civil litigation from the Port of Whitman County. "Naturally we're very excited,'' Gronholz said of the departure. "We were somewhat apprehensive. We didn't want to find ourselves the owner of that boat.'' Wilson had been in continual communication with the port assuring officials he was finalizing plans to move the Jean and had no intention of abandoning it, Gronholz said. The only concern was that transporting and renovating the Jean involved substantial resources, Gronholz said. Asked about the status of the litigation now that the Jean is gone, Gronholz said, "I'm going to guess we won't pursue it.'' The issue, Gronholz said, needs to be discussed with other commission members and the port's attorney. "As far as any damage,'' Gronholz said, "I'm not aware of any.'' The Jean first arrived in Lewiston 28 years ago, a gift from Western Transportation Co. of Portland. Although the Jean's working days were mostly on the Columbia and Willamette rivers, some said boats similar to it had once been involved in commerce here. Numerous attempts were made over the years to restore the boat as it moved from one place to another. Among its homes were Hells Gate State Park, the marina at Asotin, the Lewiston levee and most recently the Port of Wilma. Wilson got involved last year after the agreement for the Jean to be at the Asotin marina lapsed. Wilson was looking for a way for the Jean to stay in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. With the help of high water last year, the Jean was moved to the Lewiston levee. Then more recently it went from the levee to Red Wolf Bridge and then the Port of Wilma.