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Future of harbor a concern in Hickman

Future of harbor a concern in Hickman
By KEVIN BOWDEN
Staff Reporter
Officials in Hickman, Ky., are concerned about the future of their downtown harbor and are hoping a meeting Thursday morning will provide some answers.
The problem is silt that flows down the Mississippi River into the harbor, causing problems for barges that load and unload in the harbor.
It is the responsibility of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to clean out the silt from the harbor each year, according to Greg Curlin, director of the Hickman-Fulton County Riverport Authority.
This morning, he told The Messenger the Corps of Engineers hasn’t cleaned out the harbor in two years and has informed the riverport authority there are no plans to dredge the harbor in 2012.
“It’s an economic decision,” Curlin said.
He explained the Corps of Engineers prioritizes its maintenance program and a lack of federal funding has prompted the federal agency to back off dredging a total of nine harbors in the Memphis District this year.
That decision got the attention of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, who called a meeting for 10:15 a.m. Thursday at the county office building in Hickman.
The harbor remains open to barge traffic right now, but dry weather conditions pose an ongoing threat that could close the harbor at any time. If the water level in the harbor drops about five or six feet, Curlin said he would have to shut down the harbor to barge traffic.
Shutting down the harbor would affect farmers, businesses and industries throughout the region that rely on the harbor to bring in and send out products.
Amy Williamson, assistant director of the riverport authority, told The Messenger the harbor handles about a million tons a year and serves clients across western Kentucky, northwest Tennessee and in southeast Missouri. She said about 70 percent of the harbor traffic is agricultural and the remaining 30 percent is manufacturing-related traffic.
“If it (the water level) continues at the rate it’s going, it could be closed by mid-October and would be shut down until the spring,” Curlin said.
He said it’s difficult to forecast the water level for the harbor, but the probability that it could be shut down is an issue he deals with annually. It is his responsibility to work with the Corps of Engineers to keep the harbor open and he said that by not dredging the harbor that agency isn’t keeping up its end of the deal.
“They’re falling down on their obligations,” Mrs. Williamson said.
In addition to Sen. Paul, other officials from across the region have been invited to Thursday’s meeting, including U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, state Rep. Bill Sanderson, Obion County Mayor Benny McGuire and Fulton County Judge Executive David Gallagher.
“He (Paul) wants to come in and talk to users, farmers and industries to get their feel for what the harbor means to them,” Curlin told The Messenger.
Curlin said he hopes Thursday’s meeting will result in some solutions dealing with keeping the Hickman harbor open for business.
Staff Reporter Kevin Bowden may be contacted by email at kmbowden@ucmesenger.com.
Published in The Messenger 9.27.11

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