July 3, 2014 11:43:49 AM
The Columbus-Lowndes County Port Authority Board is searching for a new leader after John Hardy retired as director Monday.
Hardy had been director of the port authority since 1998.
"This has been a great job and I've loved it," Hardy said, "but it's time for me to do other things and to have more time with family."
The Golden Triangle Development LINK will absorb his duties until the board selects the authority's next director.
Under Hardy's watch, the authority leased 30 acres along the Tennessee-Tombigbee River now known as the Columbus Marina. The authority has also completed numerous negotiations with landowners and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to acquire land on the east and west banks of the river. The port now spans more than 265 acres along the Tenn-Tom Waterway, about half of which is being occupied by industries who either lease land from the authority or have bought land there outright.
Acquiring new land made way for the arrival of two major industries in 2005 -- Baldor, which manufactures electric motors, mechanical drives and power transmission products, and Kinder Morgan, which unloads barges of scrap iron and raw materials used by Severstal to produce steel.
"With (LINK CEO) Joe (Max Higgins') plans to develop additional industry, we feel like sooner or later water transportation is going to figure into something," Hardy said. "We just want to be able to have sites to offer where those companies, even if they locate (at the Golden Triangle Regional Industrial Aerospace Park) if they want a terminal on the waterway, we can accommodate them."
KiOR, a biofuel company, purchased land from the authority in 2011 to locate a $218 million plant on The Island. That company's future is in doubt, however, as the plant has not operated since last year and recently laid off 25 percent of its employees.
The port has also benefited from numerous grants from the Mississippi Department of Transportation to upgrade facilities and infrastructure under Hardy's leadership.
Last year, MDOT awarded a $335,000 grant to fund straightening a sharp curve on Port Access Road that had previously caused two trucks carrying materials to overturn. More recently, MDOT awarded $475,000 to upgrade the road from Plaza Motel to Logistic Services on the east bank.
Hardy said the most important challenge for his replacement will be acquiring more land for industry on the port and maintaining good relationships with MDOT, the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority and the Corps of Engineers.
Lowndes County Supervisor Leroy Brooks said the port has benefited greatly from Hardy's oversight.
"He's very low-key but he's very dedicated and effective," Brooks said. "He's been one of the most competent administrators that I've seen anywhere as it relates to overseeing and operation, so the county will certainly miss him. He's going to be a hard person to replace, but the time comes when we've got to make those decisions."
The authority board will discuss options for Hardy's replacement when it meets July 9.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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