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Heartland Port Authority seeks funding as project logistics begin

Heartland Port Authority seeks funding as project logistics begin

February 13th, 2019 by Jeff Haldiman in Local News

The process has begun to get land for the new Heartland Port facility on the Missouri River in Jefferson City.

State Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville, filed legislation last week to transfer 116 acres of state-owned land just east of the Ike Skelton Training Facility to the Heartland Port Authority.

The bill was introduced Feb. 5 and currently has no hearings scheduled. It asks that the state transfer the land without any transfer of money, Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Randy Allen said.

The Heartland Port Authority Board of Commissioners is considering two sites for the port. One is in southern Jefferson City near the Missouri National Guard Ike Skelton Training Facility, and the other would split the port between the southern site and a second port in Callaway County in northern Jefferson City near OCCI Inc.

Also during Tuesday's board meeting, commissioners talked more about trying to get funding for what needs to be built to make the port functional.

Some commissioners recently visited two port facilities in southeastern Missouri to see how they operated. At the facility in Cape Girardeau, board Chairman Rick Mihalevich said, they were told a tax passed in 1988 funded the port's operations, along with money from leasing the land around the port for other uses.

The Heartland Port Authority board has voted to apply for a grant it hopes will help determine who could use a Missouri River port and how ports run.

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The state Department of Agriculture's Missouri Agricultural and Small Business Development Authority provides up to $200,000 in grants to projects that aid rural communities. Grants can cover expenses relating to feasibility studies, marketing studies, marketing plans, business plans and prospects for development, according to Agriculture Department guidelines. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis and disbursed in January and July of each year.

Matt Moore, business program director for USDA Missouri, told the board there are rural business development grants the administration could provide with funds for infrastructure and equipment as well as loans that could be used by businesses that would make use of the port facilities.

Last year, Moore said, Missouri got more than $1 million in small business grants. Most of these are for one year, with the ability to reapply for another year. He believed the Heartland Port could get as much as $100,000-$150,000 in grant funds and noted the port authority in Boonville received $120,000 in grants several years ago for upgrades to its facilities.

The Heartland Port's grant application would have to be ready by the end of March, and the award could be announced in June, Moore said.

This year's proposed Missouri Department of Transportation budget calls for $11.7 million for ports, and Gov. Mike Parson's proposed budget allots $9.4 million, Mihalevich added. Both amounts are the largest seen for port funding in about a decade.

Current plans call for the Heartland Port to be ready for state funding in 2021.

The Heartland Port Authority has been looking for grant funding after failing to receive a $750,000 federal grant in December to fund preliminary engineering studies on the two proposed port sites.

In July, the Jefferson City Council and Cole County Commission agreed to match the federal government's share of the grant with $75,000 each if the grant was successful. At the time, the Callaway County Commission agreed to spend $37,500 if the grant was successful.

All told, a successful grant would have allocated $937,500 toward the survey work.

Jefferson City and Cole County also approved spending $150,000 if the grant failed. Callaway County declined to spend $75,000 if the grant failed.

The board voted in November to hire the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce to market the port, lobby on its behalf and prepare grants. Allen said the chamber probably would go back to all three governmental bodies to make sure they were still on board with paying the increased amounts.

Also discussed at Tuesday's meeting was the matter of hiring a director for the port.

Kris Scheperle, Cole County Western District commissioner and board of commissioners secretary, said he believes hiring a director should be a priority.

"I think to get things going we have to have a person in that position," he said. "I think we need to find ways to pay to hire that person, maybe talking with some of the companies who could use the port. Until we get someone in, I think we're spinning our wheels."

Cole County Eastern District Commissioner Jeff Hoelscher, who is not a member of the Port Authority board, was also at Tuesday's meeting and has visited other ports with board members. He agreed hiring a director should be a top priority.

"At the facilities we visited, they had directors who had been there 20 years, and they lived and breathed ports," Hoelscher said. "We need to get someone in place so that we can get moving."