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Port Authority receives $90,000 grant

Thursday, October 11, 2012

In this undated photo, work continues at the face of the dock. The completion of the port by December of this year may be hampered by low water levels that are expected to remain through December and possibly into January and February.
The Northwest Tennessee Regional Port Authority received some good news on Wednesday morning during its monthly meeting. Tennessee Director of USDA Rural Development Bobby Goode was on hand to announce that thanks to the collaborative efforts of the USDA and the Delta Regional Authority, the port authority will be receiving a $90,000 grant.

"We want you to know how important the port is," said Goode. "I am glad we got together with the Delta Regional Authority to come up with money for the port."

According to Goode, $50,000 in funding will come from USDA while the Delta Regional Authority will fund the remaining $40,000. Alternate Federal Co-Chairman Michael Marshall of the Delta Regional Authority was also in attendance and he echoed his praise and congratulations for what the board is trying to accomplish.

"I cannot emphasize enough how important ports are, especially for the Mississippi Delta region," said Marshall. "The river lost some of its importance during the 1800s with the transcontinental railroad but its gaining importance again."

Port Authority Chairman Jimmy Williamson thanked both Goode and Marshall for their second efforts in securing the grant funding. After being rated the highest proposal in Tennessee, the board was not selected for funding, leaving them to pursue other options. However, this new announcement allows the board to use the funds to pay for the consulting services of Informa Economics. Williamson told the board and those in attendance that Informa Economics was critical to the success of the port as the consulting firm is helping the board create a solid business plan moving forward.

Tennessee Director of USDA Rural Development Bobby Goode announces at the port authority meeting on Wednesday the awarding of a $90,000 grant jointly funded by USDA and Delta Regional Authority.
After the announcement, John Lannom proceeded to give his usual legal briefing. Lannom reported that he conducted a conference call with officials from the Surface Transportation Board (STB) including an environmental attorney and a regulatory attorney for the department. The conference call was conducted to assess what needs to be done to move forward on railway access at the port.

"We are getting inquiries from people wanting to know about rail capabilities and we probably need to get a handle on it sooner rather than later," said Lannom.

Lannom commented that STB's environmental attorney said that the board would need to do an environmental assessment as well as an impact statement. Lannom said he asked if they would consider accepting the Corps of Engineers assessment instead but the idea was met with some resistance.

Lannom also discussed whether it is in the board's best interest to own the railway or not. The benefit, he said, of owning the railway is that it will generate revenue.

"It is better for the port to own the rail than not, but we don't have any money to build it right now," said Lannom.

Marshall interjected that the port may want to consider setting up a subsidiary to own the railway. He added that some ports that have a railway, the railroad part of the port is more profitable than the port itself. Lannom agreed that the preferred model would be for the board to own the railroad and that is what they are working toward.

In other business, Michael Sanders of Forcum Lannom gave an updated project report. Sanders reported that Gibson Electric is currently installing overhead power and site lighting. In addition, fencing and gates at the port site is going up and the final grading and stabilization was taking place. However, the low water levels continue to be a challenge to completing the port on time.

"I give Choctaw and their folks all the credit in the world for doing everything they can, but there are certain things that cannot be finished until the water is higher," said Sanders.

Some of the projects that have been delayed due to the low water levels include:

* Completion of rip rap at dock

* Completion of dolphins

* Completion of associated walkways, lighting and other miscellaneous items

* Dredging operations delayed

Sanders reported that based on historical trends the low water could remain an issue late into the year.

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