Hiring port operator next important step for project officials

Hiring port operator next important step for project officials
By KEVIN BOWDEN
Staff Reporter
First it was securing the funding, then it was starting construction and now the Northwest Tennessee Regional Port Authority is making plans to hire a port consultant and a port operator.
By all indications, Lake County’s Cates Landing is on target to becoming a major economic development project for the entire region. The Mississippi River port is scheduled to be completed by December 2012.
The port authority met Wednesday in downtown Tiptonville and began the process of hiring a port operator.
“I believe this is going to be the most important decision we’re going to make,” port authority chairman Jimmy Williamson said.
Dyersburg attorney John Lannom, who has been advising the port authority on legal issues, said he has been working on establishing guidelines for the hiring of a port operator. Lannom and Willliamson met recently with Paducah, Ky., port director Ken Canter and Lannom has been talking with companies involved in port management.
“He (Canter) was very helpful,” Lannom said.
He recommended the port authority hire a consultant to oversee the hiring of a port operator.
Based on his recommendation, Williamson appointed an ad-hoc committee consisting of Richard Arnold of Obion County, Mack Forrester of Lake County and Ralph Henson of Dyer County to come up with a recommendation for a port consultant.
The ad-hoc committee is expected to make a report to the port authority at its Jan. 11 meeting, which is scheduled to be held at the Obion County Public Library.
Lannom said hiring the right person to serve as the port operator “is essential to the viability of the whole enterprise.”
A port operator would oversee the entire port operation, from barge traffic to serving as the port administrator. Lannom said the port authority is at the stage that a business plan needs to be developed.
“There are a lot of issues we need to resolve,” he said.
Lannom encouraged the port authority to come up with “the most logical way to structure the port and its operations.”
Essential to the success of the port will be hiring the most capable consultant and port operator, according to Lannom, who said with the port’s completion a year away, the port authority needs someone “with boots on the ground” when the port opens for business.
“That’s kind of where we are,” he said.
The port authority’s 40-minute meeting in Tiptonville Wednesday was once again dominated by Lannom, but there were also some unexpected announcements made at the meeting.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has returned nearly $141,000 in funding to the port authority, according to Williamson. He announced Wednesday the Corps is keeping $194,000 of its funding for the port project for the duration of a five-year mitigation plan.
He also reported the port board has received a $22,995 check for farm income and that check is twice the amount the board received last year for leasing farmland at the port site.
Then there was another announcement made after the port authority meeting that an additional $20,000 in funding is being made available through a U.S. Department of Agriculture rural development grant. The $10,000 grant is being matched by $5,000 being given by the West Tennessee Industrial Association and $5,000 being given by Gibson Electric Membership Corporation.
Also during Wednesday’s meeting, the port authority:
• Approved a resolution drafted by Lannom establishing a process to repay Obion, Lake and Dyer counties for the money they invested in the port project. The three-page resolution has the support of Obion County Mayor Benny McGuire and Lake County Mayor Macie Roberson and sets up a plan to reimburse all three counties “funds expended by the counties pursuant to their guarantee of the Port Authority’s 2007 bonds.”
Lake County committed $1.1 million, while Obion and Dyer counties each committed $550,000 for the port project.
Lannom told commissioners the resolution “more accurately reflects” the agreement between the counties and the port authority.
“We can live with that,” Roberson said at the meeting.
• Was given a construction update from Forcum Lannom’s Michael Sanders, who provided commissioners with a detailed report breaking down individual aspects of the port construction.
“Reporting has gotten more and more complex,” Sanders said.
He explained a majority of the design work on the port is complete, but recent high water conditions on the Mississippi River have delayed construction work.
“That’s caused some difficulties,” Sanders said about the high water conditions on the river.
He informed the port authority a second pile driving crew is on its way from Memphis up the Mississippi River and is scheduled to begin work by Monday.
Marketing plans
Nearly an hour after the port authority meeting was adjourned, the port’s marketing committee met to discuss marketing strategies.
Port marketing director Kerry Brannon, a former Tennessee Valley Authority executive, led the near hour-long meeting.
“Things are looking good,” Brannon said in reference to progress being made on securing Free Trade Zone designation from the U.S. Department of Commerce.
“We hope to have an answer very soon,” committee member Mike Philpot said. He is the executive director of the WTIA and has been working for the past few months on getting the trade zone application approved. He informed the marketing committee he met recently with Andrew McGilvray, executive secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Foreign Trade Zones Board.
Philpot remains optimistic about the trade zone application and said once approved it would “pay dividends” for West Tennessee and the port project.
“We’re hoping first quarter,” Philpot said in reference to an anticipated date for approval of the trade zone application.
“We’re hoping in 2012 we’ll get to make several good announcements about it,” Philpot said.
It was revealed at the marketing meeting that a “road show” is being developed to promote the Foreign Trade Zone and its usefulness to area communities.
A majority of Wednes-day’s marketing committee meeting was spent discussing ideas to promote the port to potential prospects, to investors and to key officials in West Tennessee.
There was a lengthy discussion about marketing the port project to area officials as well as to state legislators. Several events are scheduled at the state capitol during the first few months of 2012 and marketing committee members talked about attending certain events to update legislators and other state officials on the progress being made on the Lake County port project.
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Staff Reporter Kevin Bowden may be contacted by email at kmbowden@ucmessenger.com.
Published in The Messenger 12.15.11

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