Grant sought for riverport; official still aggravated
Posted: Thursday, May 27, 2010 9:31 pm
By: John Brannon, Staff Reporter
Jimmy Williamson of Dyersburg has strong words about Washington politics, a la the Obama administration.
“Politics kicked our a** good the last time. That’s the bottom line,” he said Wednesday.
He’s referring to an ill-fated application that the Northwest Tennessee Riverport Authority submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation last year for a $30 million grant to fund construction of the Cates Landing Riverport near Tiptonville.
Williamson, who is chairman of Dyersburg Electric System, is also chairman of the Northwest Tennessee Regional Port Authority board of directors. The Port Authority has charge of building the riverport, which is located on the bank of the Mississippi River at a place called Cates Landing.
Last year, the board applied for a TIGER grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, but was turned down.
Williamson said the board is poised to try again.
In this context, the word, “TIGER,” is an acronym for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Re-covery. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation website, the TIGER grant program was authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to distribute $1.5 billion of grants for transportation projects.
However, the program was vastly “oversubscribed.” The USDOT, which administers the program, received about 1,400 applications requesting a total of $60 billion.
Thus, many projects, including the Cates Landing project, were not selected for funding.
Now the USDOT has announced “TIGER II,” meaning a second round, follow-up to the original TIGER program. But this time, only $600 million is available.
Like its predecessor, TIGER II funds are to be awarded “on a competitive basis for projects that will have a significant impact on the nation, a metropolitan area or a region.”
Such rosy language fails to impress Williamson, in view of the fact that USDOT awarded Indianapolis, Ind., a TIGER grant of $20 million to build a walking trail.
Williamson suspects a smoking gun, that such grants were not awarded based on economic development and need, but on politics.
“We’ve got a compelling story and a compelling project for what the grant’s actually designed for,” Williamson said. “But politics, I can’t control.”
Williamson said this time the Port Authority will ask for TIGER II funds in the amount of $20 million to $30 million. “We haven’t decided on a final figure yet. There are a couple of earmarks (appropriations) for the rail spur in the congressional budget,” he said. “I don’t know if they’ll survive or not. But we have that working, thanks to John Tanner and (U.S. Sen.) Lamar Alexander.”
The Port Authority is working with the Tennessee Department of Transportation to draft an application for TIGER II funds.
“We must have a pre-application in by July 16 and the full application in by July 30,” he said. “Grants will be announced in September.”
And this time, the application process is “a lot more technical.”
“They’re going to look at it in a more technical way, which should help us, and on an economic development basis, which should also help us. Part of the money (the $600 million) is supposed to be for rural areas,” he said.
Meanwhile, construction of the ambitious riverport could start immediately, were it not held back by one thing.
“Money. The plans are drawn up. If we had the money, within 30 days of taking bids, we could have between 300 and 400 construction workers deployed. A lot is hanging on this TIGER II money,” he said.
No industry has committed to locate at the proposed industrial park at Cates Landing because none will do so while it’s still a paperwork exercise.
“If we could start construction — and we’re ready to start tomorrow — I think we could get some industry interested because we’re being made a Foreign Trade Zone. We are going to be a branch of the Port of Memphis and Shelby County Foreign Trade Zone. We are working with Shelby County on it. The West Tennessee Industrial Association’s economic development (branch) is spearheading that.”
Deep water port
Williamson reported the U.S. Corps of Engineers has completed dredging of the oxbow of the Mississippi River that will serve as the facility’s deep water harbor.
“It was dredged down to 12. Now it’s down to 13 or 14 feet,” he said. “They changed the reference point on the bottom of the river. It was nine feet in low water with a two-foot overdredge; now it’s 11 feet with a two-foot overdredge.
“We’ve got the deepest harbor between St. Louis and Baton Rouge.”
Published in The Messenger 5.27.10