By KEVIN BOWDEN
It takes about $800,000 a year to keep the Hickman, Ky., riverport open for business, but federal funding to dredge the harbor has dried up and now the southwest Kentucky riverport is in danger of being closed.
That was the message from Hickman-Fulton County Riverport Authority director Greg Curlin to a delegation of state and federal officials Thursday morning in Hickman.
He announced at Thursday’s meeting that the Hickman riverport has been in operation since the early ’70s, but has not been dredged during the past two years and he has been informed there is no federal funding available to dredge the harbor next year.
Dredging the riverport is key to keeping the slack-water harbor open to barge traffic. An estimated 70 percent of the riverport’s business relates to agriculture across Kentucky, Tennessee and even across the river in Missouri.
Curlin worked with U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, (R-Ky.,) to set up Thursday’s meeting, which was attended by a diverse crowd of about 80 people.
Among those at the meeting were several Obion County officials, including state Rep. Bill Sanderson, county commissioners Ralph Puckett and Danny Jowers and Mike Miller with Obion Grain Co. in Obion.
Miller told The Messenger after the meeting that Obion Grain Co. unloads fertilizer at the Hickman riverport and also uses the riverport to load grain during the harvest season. He said if the harbor were shut down it would create problems for his grain company and the “substantial number of farmers across northwest Tennessee” it serves.
Martin Mayor Randy Brundige and Jimmy Williamson with the Northwest Tennessee Regional Port Authority were also in attendance at the meeting, as were representatives of other members of Congress from across the region and representatives from the Delta Regional Authority.
Those at the meeting were there to gather information about the economic impact of the Hickman riverport and to express their concerns about the future of the riverport.
Fulton County Judge/Executive David Gallagher opened the meeting by emphasizing the importance of the riverport as it relates to the region’s economic development. Gallagher is also chairman of the Ken-Tenn Regional Alliance.
“In my view, we’re not going to solve this here today,” Whitfield said as he emphasized the need to think outside the box in considering possible solutions to the funding problem.
He said the challenge is to come up with a long-term mechanism to provide a revenue flow to cover the expense of dredging the Hickman port and other small ports along the Mississippi River.
Thursday’s meeting at the county office building in Hickman lasted just over an hour and featured presentations from area farmers and officials who all provided specific numbers related to the port’s importance to the region.
Fulton farmer Sam Hancock was the first to address the crowd and said it would cost him about $25,000 to $35,000 a year if the Hickman riverport closed. He said he would have to haul his grain to other riverports such as Cairo, Ill.
George Leavell, vice president of WEPFR Marine, which handles barge traffic for the Hickman riverport, announced Thursday that if the Hickman port has to be shut down then the Dorena, Mo., riverport would also have to be closed.
The lack of funding available to dredge the Hickman port is due to the port not meeting minimum thresholds for barge traffic, according to Col. Verne Reichling Jr., commander of the Corps’ Memphis District. Paul and Whitfield suggested one solution might be to lower the threshold for barge traffic.
Of the 10 riverports managed by the Corps’ Memphis District, only two (both located in Memphis) are eligible to be dredged using federal funding, according to Col. Reichling.
Staff Reporter Kevin Bowden may be contacted by email at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger 9.30.11