Port officials turn attention to operation of new facility

Port officials turn attention to operation of new facility
By KEVIN BOWDEN
Staff Reporter
Officials with the Cates Landing project in Lake County are focusing their attention on the next phase of the riverport — the actual operation of the facility.
The Mississippi River port located north of Tiptonville has gone from steady progress earlier this year to numerous weather delays in recent months. Now it appears the riverport project is on track to be completed by early 2013.
The Northwest Tennessee Regional Port Authority met early Wednesday at the Obion County Public Library. The monthly meeting was once again dominated by progress reports from those involved in various aspects of the project.
The port authority voted unanimously to begin a search for a part-time port manager. Port authority chairman Jimmy Williamson said he hopes to have resumés in by late January and said he will appoint a committee to review the applications and then report to the port authority.
The job description of the port manager will be to supervise port operations, handle budgeting and industrial recruitment and manage the port, according to Williamson. The part-time manager’s salary will come from port funds and the $3,700 a month income from Cargill, Williamson said.
The port authority is still waiting on a master plan report from informa economics of Memphis. The consulting firm was hired earlier this year to draft a master plan and make recommendations for a full-time port operator. There has been no indication as to when informa economics will actually present its report and recommendations to the port authority.
Senior consultant Scott Sigman with informa economics was at Wednesday’s meeting and updated the board on his company’s work. He said informa economics is “showcasing the port” and is “working with a couple of prospects.”
The port is scheduled to be open for business by March 2013. It is later than initially planned, but the low water conditions on the Mississippi River have delayed work on the riverport in recent months.
At Wednesday’s near 45-minute meeting, Dyersburg attorney John Lannom delivered his monthly update on legal issues concerning the Lake County riverport. He said work is continuing on the Foreign Trade Zone aspect of the riverport and said the port authority needs to begin working on railroad access to the port.
He said there is an “increasingly obvious” need for a 5.5-mile railroad extension to the port. “The need is here right now,” Lannom said.
He explained railroad access to the port will truly make the facility intermodal, with river, road and rail access.
“We’re now in the railroad business big time,” Lannom said. “Right now, it is my hope the port authority will own it (the railroad extension).”
The proposed railroad extension is expected to cost several million dollars and would tie in to the port’s industrial park as well as Lake County’s 350-acre industrial park.
“At this point, we just have to get the process started,” Lannom said.
He also pointed out the port authority is facing the task of finalizing the construction phase of the riverport.
Lannom said the port project is “nearing project completion.”
Immediately following Lannom’s report, Forcum Lannom’s Michael Sanders presented an update on construction work at the port site. His detailed report showed dredging work on the river is complete, work is continuing on the 40,000-square-foot warehouse at the port site, a new monument sign is being erected, a security fence at the site is installed, utility work is on track and work is continuing on the new port office.
The new warehouse is being built by Universal Contractors and Sanders said the building “is tracking along a little ahead of schedule” after being damaged recently by high winds. Sanders also presented a work schedule from Choctaw Transportation that showed “substantial completion” of their work by Jan. 31, 2013.
Included in his report was a graphic showing the Mississippi River is beginning to rise, which is good news for the port project.
One of the most telling statements that came out of Wednesday’s meeting was Williamson’s comment, “We’re about to wind up construction and go into business.” For all the years of planning that have gone into the Cates Landing project, the riverport now appears on the verge of being operational. The project is now shifting gears from concept to reality, and it’s a distinction that is attracting national and international attention.
Williamson said he gave a report on Cates Landing at an agricultural roundtable held earlier this week in Milan. Among those in attendance at that meeting was Congressman Stephen Fincher, state Commissioner of Agriculture Julius Johnson and farmers from across the region.
The Lake County riverport will have a major impact on agriculture in the region, according to state economic development official Blake Swaggart. He said at Wednesday’s meeting the port will serve as a “trade center” for a three-state region and added, “we, as a state, are moving toward more trade opportunities.”
He explained state figures estimate that for every $140,000 in exports from Tennessee, one job is created. He announced at Wednesday’s meeting Tennessee exported an estimated $30 billion in goods this past year, and the state’s most exported product is soybeans.
Along with those numbers, Swaggart said there is a push by state agriculture officials to double Tennessee’s grain production in the next 10 years.
Published in The Messenger 12.13.12

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