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Progress made at new riverport

Progress made at new riverport

Posted: Thursday, October 9, 2008 9:47 pm

By JOHN BRANNON
Messenger Staff Reporter
Construction of special areas to receive spoil material at the new Cates Landing Riverport near Tiptonville has been completed at a cost of $1.4 million, according to an official.
The new riverport, with a price tag of about $22 million, is being built on an oxbow of the Mississippi River in Lake County. A 1,000-acre industrial park is also part of the plans.
Jimmy Williamson, chairman of Northwest Tennessee Regional Port Authority, which is building the huge facility, reported that Coffey Construction Co. recently completed the spoils project. (“Spoil” is defined as that material dredged from a waterway.)
Dredging of the harbor to a depth of 11 feet will begin the last week of October or the first week of November. Michigan-based Great Lakes Dredging was the successful low bidder for the project that will cost $3.6 million.
“They do a lot of work for the Corps of Engineers,” Williamson said. “They’re a big outfit. And it’s already paid for. The port authority wrote the Corps a check for $3,612,000. The Corps doesn’t do any work on credit.”
Once the harbor is dredged, work will begin on the facility itself, meaning the harbor piers and buildings. Williamson estimated the construction of that part of the project will begin the first week of January 2009.
Meanwhile, on a related matter, the Nashville office of Tennessee Valley Authority has notified state Economic Development commissioner Matthew Kisber that TVA has withdrawn its offer of $450,000 in financial assistance for Project Aurora Steel.
TVA made the offer earlier this year.
“Project Aurora Steel” is the code name for Warren Fabricating and Machining, a steel mill company based in Warren, Ohio. The steel magnate had considered Cates Landing as the site of a new steel mill.
“It was a $700 million project,” Williamson said. “It would consist of the steel mill, a rolling mill and a fabricating plant. It’s sort of like the deal the state put together for the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga.”
Warren officials were also looking at a site at Blytheville, Ark.
In the negotiations to land the deal, Tennessee offered an incentives package of $219 million in tax abatement, job credits and infrastructure. All this, plus the $450,000 TVA grant.
On March 6, economic administrator Kingsley Brock told The Messenger that Warren Fabricating had decided in February not to build its plant in Tennessee and had chosen the Blytheville site.
But on March 16, a Jonesboro, Ark., newspaper reported that Warren Fabricating had decided against the Blytheville site, too.
“It’s not economically feasible,” Paul Theisler, Warren’s chief financial officer, told the newspaper.
The Messenger’s efforts to reach Theisler via phone were not successful.
Williamson said he’s convinced that Warren officials just had a change of plans.
“Why they changed them, I don’t know,” he said. “In Dyersburg, I’m working two or three (industrial prospects) right now. You go through, present the incentives. They say, ‘Well, we like the incentives, but we’ll just postpone this for now.’
“That’s the way it goes in economic development. You get a lot of tire-kickers in this business; you do a lot of work. Sometimes they come. Most of the time, they don’t.”
Whatever the case, it hurt northwest Tennessee to lose the steel mill, he added.
“I believe we’ll get something else, though,” he said. “Just before this company came to us, there was an outfit out of Brazil looking for a place to build a steel mill. They looked at Cates Landing.”
And yet, Williamson noted, it was probably just as well that the Warren plant did not come to northwest Tennessee.
“It was probably a little premature for us,” he said. “We did not have our infrastructure on the ground yet. I don’t know what we’d have done if they’d have come. Now we are slowly getting infrastructure into place and getting into a better position to be able to respond to these kinds of things.”
And what about using the codeword, “Project Aurora Steel,” in official correspondence?
Williamson said that in the corporate world, competition is keen. “They don’t want their competitors to know what they are doing,” he said. “They don’t want their suppliers to know, either. Take the Briggs & Stratton plant that came to Newbern. They said they’d sue us if we even breathed the fact that they’d been in town.
“We get one or two (prospects) a month coming through. It’s always the same thing. You do all this work, and who knows (if it’ll pan out)? They may come back one of these days. NFK, the Japanese plant, we worked with them for three years. They wore us out.
“You’ve got to have patience, keep smiling, and say, ‘What else do you need?’”
Published in The Messenger 10.09.08

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