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Missouri River port bill still alive as session winds down

May 10, 2019 at 3:32 a.m. | Updated May 10, 2019 at 3:34 a.m.
Backers of a proposed Missouri River port in or near Jefferson City are working to advance the project.

The clock is ticking for final action to take place on state legislation that would give Jefferson City the land for a port with access to the Missouri River.

The state Senate General Laws Committee voted House Bill 1237 out of committee Thursday, recommending the full Senate debate and pass the measure.

HB 1237 has language for the Heartland Port land transfer, similar to House Bill 813, which was sponsored by state Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville, and Senate Bill 385, which was sponsored by state Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, according to Randy Allen, president of the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce.

State Rep. Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit, sponsors HB 1237, which combines other land conveyance bills from around the state into one measure.

The House-approved version would require the state to auction off 4,200 acres of land in Oregon County that was to become Eleven Point State Park. Former Gov. Jay Nixon's administration purchased the Eleven Point State Park land, along with several smaller parcels, with funds from a cleanup and bankruptcy settlement involving lead mining companies.

Nixon and supporters at the time argued the mining settlement allowed the government to protect unaffected land, the Associated Press reported this week. However, opponents raised concerns the state didn't have the resources to care for the parks and historic sites it already was responsible for operating.

Missouri now could face legal challenges for any planned sale of the property, since its deed requires it "to remain dedicated to public use as a state park," the Committee on Legislative Research's nonpartisan analysis found.

Allen said the General Laws Committee took the park language out of HB 1237 before sending it to the full Senate. Should the Senate approve the measure, it would have to go back to the House because the version the House passed included the park - and the state Constitution requires both chambers to pass the same final language.

"We're still alive," Allen said. "However, there's issues that have to be decided with the state budget and other measures that could take up more time of the Legislature - and that could slow down the process for our measure."

The regular legislative session must end at 6 p.m. May 17.

HB 1237 would transfer 116 acres of state-owned land just east of the Ike Skelton Training Facility in Jefferson City to the Heartland Port Authority. This has been the main site the Port Authority Board has focused on, but it also is looking at a plan to split the port with a secondary site in Callaway County near OCCI.

The chamber had been looking at the Skelton land for 10 years for possible development, and the Missouri National Guard and Missouri Department of Corrections - whose Algoa and Jefferson City Correctional Centers are located nearby - had no plans to use the land.

Should the Legislature fail to pass a measure for the port, Allen said, adding "We'll be on hold.

"No one has objected to our port measure, but we don't have any control how the measures go through the Legislature."

The Heartland Port Authority Board agreed last month to pursue a federal grant to help set up a port, without using funds from local governments. The USDA Missouri rural business development grant would be for $180,000 and would be used to fund needed clearances under the National Environmental Policy Act that the port site would have to meet - including farmland impact, hydraulic modeling and finding if any endangered species are in the area where a proposed port would be located.

Without the land conveyance, Allen said, he isn't sure how the Port Authority's ability to get the grant would be affected.

"Theoretically, we would not be using the money to build anything," he said. "We don't know if the USDA would look at this unfavorably."


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