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Business as usual expected after cargo merger


Brian O'Connor

One of the last Northland barges pulls into the terminal in Wrangell Tuesday. Lynden, Inc., owners of Alaska Marine Lines, has purchased the Northland brand. Sitka-based Samson Tug and Barge will move into the Northland assets this week.

Officials from Samson Tug and Barge said freight operations in Wrangell and Petersburg would go largely unaltered as a result of a merger set to take effect this weekend.

The merger has been in the works for months. Global shipping company Lynden, Inc. announced it would purchase the Northland Services brand and combine it with Alaska Marine Lines (AML) in April. Northland and AML are the two main cargo providers to Southeast, and Alaska state officials initially warned the arrangement could leave some communities – Wrangell and Petersburg among them - with only a single company to provide freight operations necessary to bring items like produce from Washington. However, state and company officials eventually worked out an agreement whereby Sitka-based Samson would purchase assets vacated by Northland to maintain a competitive market. An Anchorage superior court approved the merger in early October.

Officials with Samson said the deal represented a growth opportunity, and a positive gain for the company.

"Our family is growing," said Samson vice-president Cory Baggen.

The company has opened a 14,000 square-foot warehouse in Seattle to accommodate the expansion of its business. Local deliveries may shift to a day later than usual, officials said. Samson plans for the last Northland Services barge to sail from Seattle on Friday, Baggen said.

Business Development Manager Jim Scholz said officials had structured the deal specifically to make Samson a viable competitor with AML, and that most employees of Northland, along with offices and equipment, would remain at their current locations. The purchase amounts to 15 percent of Northland.

"We're gonna provide essentially the same level of service that Northland had been providing in Southeast Alaska previously," he said. "The plan from everybody involved is that we be a viable competitor and provide the same level of service in the past."

Previous Northland customers wishing to transfer their business to Samson may be able to do so Tuesday. Monday, Veteran's Day, is a paid holiday for Samson employees.

A few employees have departed to work for AML at various sites in the communities affected by the changeover, but the majority will remain in place going forward, Scholz said.

Prior to the acquisition, Samson had focused on communities further north and west, officials said.

The ultimate goal is a smooth transfer, Baggen said.

"We're trying to make it as easy as possible for the customers," she said. "We're trying to figure out a way to make it as seamless as possible."

The new presence also brings full circle the story of the Samson-owning Baggen family, who emigrated from Norway to Petersburg in 1898.

"We're coming back to our hometown," she said.

Local representatives for Northland referred questions to the corporate office, who in turn referred questions to Baggen and other Samson officials.


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