Coast Guard, N.W. grain terminals gear up; lockout appears imminent

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The U.S. Coast Guard has established a safety zone around grain ships calling on Portland and Vancouver as a potential lockout of Longshore workers looms.

Northwest grain terminal owners, which could impose the lockout at any time, have brought in three towboats and have nonunion crews on standby, a law enforcement official said Friday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of a gag order issued by federal mediators who supervised last-ditch contract talks that ended Wednesday between the owners and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

The steps by the Coast Guard and the employers re-enforce signs that a lockout or strike is imminent at six of the Northwest terminals that handle a quarter of U.S. grain exports. Mediators say only that the union and the employers are considering options after the talks that continued after Sept. 30, when a Longshore labor contract expired.

The temporary safety zone, already in effect, bars people and boats from an area 500 yards ahead of grain vessels and 200 yards beside, as well as behind the big ships. The Coast Guard has also recommended safe but prominent areas for any protestors in boats near Columbia Grain Inc. and Temco terminals in Portland and United Grain Corp.'s elevator in Vancouver.

Towboats stood by earlier this year at a Longview terminal where protests turned violent.