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Legislation that would give state-owned land for a port facility on the Missouri River in Jefferson City was considered Wednesday in a Missouri Senate committee.

The Senate Local Government and Elections Committee heard testimony on the bill sponsored by state Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City.

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The bill would transfer 116 acres of state-owned land just east of the Ike Skelton Training Facility in Jefferson City to the Heartland Port Authority.

After Wednesday's hearing, Bernskoetter said the committee would meet about the bill again and vote on whether to send it to the full Senate for consideration, but that wouldn't happen until after the Legislature returns from next week's spring break.

A similar piece of legislation in the Missouri House of Representatives, sponsored by state Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville, is scheduled for a hearing after the Legislature's spring break.

The Heartland Port Authority Board of Commissioners is considering two sites for the planned port. One is near the Ike Skelton facility, and the other would split the port between the southern site and a second site in Callaway County near OCCI Inc.

Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Randy Allen told senators the chamber had been looking at the 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.

Port Authority Board Vice Chair Roger Fischer, who is a Callaway County commissioner, also testified Wednesday, telling senators many small companies in Central Missouri have no way to access the river now and could see their businesses grow with a port allowing them to deliver goods around the world.

State Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, asked Fischer and Allen whether they had funding lined up to get the port going and whether they would return to the Legislature seeking more funds.

"We will work to make this a self-sufficient operation, but we have to be cautious," Fischer said.

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"We are working with the USDA to get a grant that would fund mapping along and concept designs," Allen added. "As far as other funding, no we have not got that in place, but we are working on that and we will also be asking for some of the money which the state has given to the other 14 ports in the state."

The USDA grant application must be ready by the end of March, and the award could be announced in June.

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. Both amounts would be 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.

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