The original rail line between Metaline Falls and Newport, Washington was constructed during the years 1909 to 1911 by Fredrick Blackwell and was named the Idaho and Washington Northern (I&WN). In 1913, when Mr. Blackwell was unable to make the interest payments on his construction bonds due to a continued slump in the lumber market and a four-month delay in getting the cement plant operational, the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad took over operating the I&WN for a period of two years. On January 25, 1916 the I &WN was sold at auction to the Milwaukee Road. The Milwaukee Road ran the railroad until 1979 when it declared it was no longer economically feasible to keep the line in operation. Rather than abandoning the line, the citizens of Pend Oreille County joined together and voted to create the Port of Pend Oreille to operate the Pend Oreille Valley Railroad (POVA). The sole purpose of the Port was to save the railroad and the two mills that were dependent upon it for rail service on the northern end of the line. These two companies were Lehigh Portland Cement Company at Metaline Falls and Louisiana Pacific Corporation at Ione, Washington. From 1979 until October 1984, the Port leased the rail line to Kyle Railways. In October 1984, the Port began operating the railroad five days per week from Metaline Falls to Newport and return. Both the cement plant at Metaline Falls and the lumber mill in Ione closed and were dismantled leaving the north end of the line without any active shippers. For many years the Port kept the northern end of the line open and up to FRA standards in hopes of attracting businesses that would ship by rail to the area. The Port has always maintained the track and bridges to comply with federal standards but new standards what went into effect in September 2017 made it economical unfeasible to keep the north end of the line open. New bridge inspections were projected to cost between $100,000-$200,000 just for the inspection, not counting the cost of any recommended repairs, of 20 bridges between Tacoma Creek and Metaline Falls, where there is no active shipper. The Board and staff made the tough decision to place the line north of MP 22.9 in an out of service status in October of 2016 which also meant an end to the North Pend Oreille Valley Lions Club’s excursion train rides.
The remaining shipper on the line between Metaline Falls and Newport is located at Usk. Ponderay Newsprint Company ships newsprint and a few loads of chemicals per year by rail. Knowing that more shippers were needed for the railroad to survive, and being given an opportunity to add a small section of Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) track to its operations, the Port signed a 20-year lease agreement with BNSF in 1998 which took this small Port District’s railroad operations into the State of Idaho. POVA currently employs 15 full time employees, plus additional summer help for track maintenance as needed. POVA track crews provide all the track maintenance for the line. In the POVA shop, in addition to day-to-day railroad operations, crews rebuild locomotives not only for our own business but does so on a contract basis as well. In 2013 POVA added on to the maintenance shop. A 30-ton overhead crane and a locomotive paint booth were included in this construction. In 2018 a newly constructed blast booth was added to increase productivity for painting operations. The Port of Pend Oreille was voted in without taxing authority leaving so the main source of revenue comes from the operation of the railroad; this Port is one of only a few Port District’s within Washington that does not collect a property tax.
The Port of Pend Oreille Board of Commissioner meetings are scheduled for the second Tuesday of each month and begin at 9 a.m. at the Port office located at 1981 Black Road, Usk, WA. The public is invited to attend these meetings. Please contact the Port office at 445-1090 to verify current meeting dates and times. If you wish to be included on the agenda please contact Kelly Driver at least 24-hours in advance.