by Michael Cummings
Local business leaders and elected officials gathered at the office of Lincolnland Economic Development Corporation on July 29 for a brief interaction with Aimee Andres, one of the nation’s leading inland port advocates and Executive Director of the non-profit trade association Inland Rivers, Ports and Terminals (IRPT). IRPT has over 200 members within 10 American river basins.
Andres updated the group on the current legislative and market trends impacting the development of inland ports.
With access to the Ohio River, Spencer County has a special geographic asset that could be potentially leveraged to a greater degree than it currently is.
“We have a nice actual straight stretch of river bank which would be excellent, and is used, for fleeting,” explained Tom Utter, Executive Director of Lincolnland Economic Development Corporation.
While surrounding communities like Tell City and Owensboro maintain public ports, Spencer County’s port access has so far been developed only for private uses. Primarily, companies like AEP (coal), ADM (agriculture), and Mulzer (aggregate) maintain their own operations at various points along the river bank. Superior Ag also extensively utilizes inland river shipping routes, importing materials like fertilizer products into New Orleans which are then barged upstream and unloaded at regional ports like Owensboro.
Utter feels that increasing demand for inland shipping and the new connectivity provided by the expansion of US 231 are reasons to explore the potential development of a multi-commodity intermodal river port for Spencer County. He stressed that establishing a port would not be as easy as “build it and they will come.”
Andres also advocated taking a demand driven approach. In her experience, successful start-up ports often begin with one or two “staple shippers”, who will use the ports enough to carry a new port through its early years.
Of course, development costs can be steep and inherently risky. IRPT has been leading the charge to sponsor federal legislation facilitating an infrastructure grant program for inland ports. Andres encouraged Spencer County to develop a port plan that includes every detail of how they would establish a successful port, including a financing toolkit.
The meeting raised awareness and conversation amongst the business and government leaders in attendance. The next step for Utter and LEDC appears to be conducting a survey of potential shippers in the region in order to quantify the level of demand. From there, careful discussion and planning will be critical to creating a successful inland port within Spencer County.