Drought delays Cates Landing work; open house canceled

Drought delays Cates Landing work; open house canceled
Staff Reporter
It was supposed to be finished by the end of the year, but Mother Nature will likely delay the completion of Lake County’s Cates Landing project into early next year. A historic drought has virtually dried up the Mississippi River and is having a significant impact on the riverport project.
Construction work at the port site has been on schedule in recent months, but the low river level is continuing to cause major problems for contractors.
Forcum Lannom’s Michael Sanders provided the Northwest Tennessee Regional Port Authority with a detailed construction update at the board’s 45-minute meeting Thursday morning in Dyersburg. Sanders is the senior project executive for Forcum Lannom Contractors in Dyersburg and has been overseeing construction of the riverport.
Sanders’ report to the port board was a mix of good news and bad news.
He said the concrete roadways at the port site are complete, the first concrete pour for the new warehouse foundation is scheduled for today, work on the crushed stone base and open cell dock are complete, the warehouse plumbing has been roughed in, the truck scale has been installed, warehouse steel has been delivered to the site and the entire port site has been mowed and is being prepped for seeding.
Then came the bad news.
The historic low level of the Mississippi River is delaying the placement of rip rap at the dock, completion of piers at the site, dredging operations and work on the walkways, lighting, power and other site work.
Sanders said the river is forecast to drop to six feet below its normal level. Flooding along the Mississippi River last year pushed the river level 52 feet above normal.
The drought’s impact on the river was described as a “pretty extreme situation” by Sanders. So extreme in fact that harbor dredging being done by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been suspended in the region.
“Based on historical trends, low water could remain an issue into December or later,” Sanders announced.
For members of the port board, the drought report was one of several issues brought up during Wednesday’s meeting.
Dyersburg attorney John Lannom informed the board he has been working for the past few weeks on a planned rail connection for the port. He said a 4.5-mile rail line from Tiptonville north to the port site is planned, but the multi-million pricetag for the rail spur could be impacted by federal regulations. He said the “most daunting challenge” for the rail line is an expected $75,000 to $100,000 application fee and environmental clearances, which he described as time-consuming and costly for the project. Lannom said he will be involved in an upcoming conference call with officials with the Surface Transportation Board to discuss the railroad project.
Lannom then delivered more bad news, saying the long-awaited approval of the port authority’s Foreign Trade Zone application “has not yet happened.”
It was announced at the meeting that the FTZ application is “still floating around,” according to port authority chairman Jimmy Williamson.
Obion County Mayor Benny McGuire and Lake County Mayor Macie Roberson both attended Wednesday’s meeting. They and other economic development officials from around the region sat in the audience listening to all the updates on the port project.
Because of the drought, a planned Oct. 18 open house at the port site was canceled Wednesday.
“We’re going to have to set a new date,” Williamson said.
A master plan report and port operator report are also being delayed, due to funding issues. The port authority was expecting a grant from the USDA to cover the cost of the work being done by the informa economics consulting firm of Memphis, but Williams reported Tuesday the grant was not approved. Now, the port authority is working on coming up with an alternate source of funding.
Williamson said he is working on “another plan that we think is going to work.”
Informa economic representative Ken Eriksen was at Tuesday’s meeting and said, “We’re getting (prospects) to look beyond the short run” as he referenced the drought’s impact on the port. He said he is working on a “hit list” of prospects. As for potential port operator candidates, Eriksen said, “We’ve got a lot of interest” but no commitments at this time.
“There’s a certain amount of excitement,” Eriksen said in reference to the port’s export capabilities. He announced he was in Thailand recently and Cates Landing was one of the economic development projects being discussed at meetings there.
In other action at Tuesday’s meeting, the port authority:
• Approved a low bid of $715,463 from McEarl Electric Company of Henderson to do all the electrical work at the port site. The bid was the lowest of three bids submitted for the electrical work, but was still more than the $669,315 budgeted for the work. The port authority will tap into its contingency fund to cover the increase.
Sanders said there have been several jobs that have gone over budget, while others have been under budget, but overall the port authority has $436,000 in its contingency fund. The recent Hurricane Isaac had some impact on work at the port site, according to Sanders.
• Was informed by Williamson that the port authority’s contract with Cargill, to lease farmland at the port site, is back on track.
“The Cargill deal is back on,” Williamson said.
Staff Reporter Kevin Bowden may be contacted by email at kmbowden@ucmessenger.com.
Published in The Messenger 9.13.12

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