Paducah-McCracken County Riverport Authority Executive Director Bill Miller still believes the container-on-barge program is vital to the continued economic development growth of the west Kentucky region.
He believes it despite the riverport being turned down for federal grant funds to bolster the service the last three years through the U.S. Department of Transportation's BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) grant program and its successor, TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants.
The riverport's most recent attempt to secure BUILD funds was included in the city of Paducah's BUILD grant application which primarily focused on the city's riverfront infrastructure improvement project.
The city received $10.4 million for the riverfront project, but the $5.3 million request for the riverport's container-on-barge was not included. According to Pam Spencer, Paducah's public information officer, the city did not receive any information on why the riverport portion was not funded.
"This is our third year in a row not being successful at it," Miller said. "We felt we covered all the bases (in application)."
In 2017, the riverport applied for a TIGER grant of approximately $11 million.
In 2018 the riverport wrote its own application for approximately $10.7 million in BUILD funds which was presented along with the city's 2018 application for the riverfront, according to Miller.
"In 2019, we did the project as one grant with the city and that's the one we're still trying to understand (why it wasn't funded). I think we put together a good project and included every piece of grant's requirements including economic development, reducing (transportation) costs, less road congestion and the job side of it."
Miller said he expects there will be a de-briefing with the transportation department on why the riverport's application was not approved this time.
Container-on-barge is an intermodal freight transport in which containers are stacked on a barge and taken to a destination on the inland waterways.
The riverport has received federal assistance in the past. Most recently, the port received a $251,927 Marine Highway grant in August 2018 to purchase shoreside container-handling equipment. The 2019 BUILD grant request was improvements to the riverport's container transfer yard.
"We may need to look to see if there are other financial avenues to assist us in getting the required capital we need to get this operational," Miller said.
While the riverport is not currently moving containers on barge, it is working on a couple of container-on-barge projects that would bring new business to the riverport.
"We were really hoping to get this BUILD grant so we would be able to grow it (container-on-barge) at a rapid pace. The way I look at it, for the region to be able to grow in economic development, to compete in today's world where the projection is 95% of international cargo moves in containers, you have to be able to handle containers ... you have to."
According to the executive director, the riverport is well positioned to take advantage of the container-on-barge program.
"We're right by the Ohio and the Mississippi rivers, we've got access to two blue-water ports directly down the Mississippi River as well as the Tennessee-Tombigbee rivers. We have an attractive rate. We feel we can save shippers money that would entice them to build their manufacturing facilities here in the region." Miller said.
"I still believe in the project. The question becomes how do we move forward? Do we try something with a P3 (public-private partnership) maybe with a foreign entity or something?
"We're not a taxing authority. We have to solely survive on our income."