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Port Authority plans for potential growth

 

Jason Browne

 

The Columbus-Lowndes County Port is poising itself for growth. 

 

The Lowndes County Port Authority discussed a number of projects Wednesday to prepare the port for future projects. 

 

On the list is repairing the rail scale, which has been out of service for the past several years, to meet a growing demand for rail shipping. 

 

John Hardy, director of the Lowndes County Port, reported to the board the low bid to completely repair the scale was around $50,000. 

 

Christy Kimbrell, port manager for SSA Marine, detailed how her company currently must weigh shipping loads due to the broken scale. SSA loads them on a truck and weighs the truck before dumping the material and loading it onto a rail car. 

 

SSA currently loads 10-15 rail cars each week and Kimbrell says the lengthy process will become more cumbersome if business improves with the weather and the scale is not repaired. 

 

The board asked Hardy to check into warranty options from each of the two companies bidding to repair the scale and to research methods of generating revenue through the scale, thereby recouping costs. 

 

"We don''t want to spend $50,000 and in a year it''s back where it was," said Dennis Erby, board president. "I would like to have enough data in place to make a decision by the next meeting." 

 

The Port Authority will recoup some unrelated costs when it receives $97,000 of a $407,000 Mississippi Department of Transportation grant for the construction of a rail spur on the port''s West bank. The money will likely be received within the next month. 

 

The Port Authority spent the $97,000 out of its reserves for preconstruction processes such as engineering and environmental work. 

 

The total grant will fund the rail spur on the west bank and a site development project on the east bank aimed at preparing the land for potential industry. 

 

Kevin Stafford, of Neel-Schaffer Engineering, spoke to the board about going a step further and preparing a long-term plan for courting industry. He recommended talking to port engineer Ron Cole of Nashville, to which the board agreed. 

 

"(Stafford) is going to get (Cole) to talk to us about a strategic plan that would highlight the things we need to do over the next five-10 years to position the port to be attractive to industry," said Hardy. 

 

In the interest of short-term growth, the board approved the lease of an additional five acres of land to Georgia Pacific. 

 

"They had been leasing seven acres on a monthly basis. Now they want more land and they want it for a year. The fact that they''re willing to enter into a year''s lease on additional acreage is a good sign they''re going to stay for the long term," said Hardy. 

 

Georgia Pacific buys logs from local loggers and contracts with Southern Wood Fiber to chip the logs before shipping them by barge to its paper mills in Alabama. 

 

SSA Marine also requested to lease two additional acres at the port to store limestone.

 

 

 

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