By FRANK LEWIS
PDT Staff Writer
The proposed expansion of the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority could have a positive effect on the future of inter-modal expansion in the Portsmouth area.
The imminent expansion of the Panama Canal could have a far-ranging effect, and could stretch all the way to Portsmouth if the Cincinnati Port Authority has its way.
According to a story in the Business Courier, the Authority is seeking federal approval for an expansion that would make it the lead agency for Ohio River commerce in a 200-mile stretch from Madison, Ind., to Portsmouth.
“We’re seeking to expand the mileage that we currently have here in Ohio and the Ohio River,” Marjorie Karimi of the Cincinnati port authority told the Portsmouth Daily Times. “Currently it is about 20-22 miles, and we’re seeking to expand that.”
According to an article in cincinnatimagazine.com, within three years, the current capacity of the Panama Canal will double, thanks to construction now underway. Ships that have, in the past, been forced to unload on the West Coast because their cargoes were too large to inch through the isthmus will have options. They will be able to steam right into the Gulf of Mexico and up the East Coast.
The expansion could make Cincinnati one of the nation’s busiest inland ports, boosting its marketing clout and improving chances for the development of potentially important river-to-rail shipping facilities.
“That would definitely be one of the reasons behind that (expansion request),” Karimi said.
Melissa Johnson, director of transportation and logistics for the Cincinnati port authority, said there are still many questions to be answered concerning the expansion of the Panama Canal.
“We have also been considering the expansion of the Panama Canal on the Port of Cincinnati, and I think a lot of other communities throughout the nation are doing the same,” Johnson said. “There are arguments probably on both sides of the fence as to the impact of the Panama Canal either being substantial or not being as substantial as some people might think. We’re doing an evaluation of different opinions, or predictions, or studies ourselves, to try to make the best determination for us, as to where we think that impact may really stand.”
Scioto County developer Don Hadsell said he has purchased property adjacent to and east of the McGovney dock, which he also owns, with plans to see it become part of the inter-modal system that would serve the river, rail and highway system. But he says he is waiting for all the information on the expansion before he forms an opinion as to whether the expansion would be beneficial to the area and his businesses.
“It’s not going to do away with the local port authority,” said Steve Wells, Scioto County Economic Development Office supervisor. “But certainly it can be an advantage with the leverage of resources with somebody like Cincinnati. And the (expansion of) the Canal is going to make an awful lot more traffic on this river.”
Wells said Scioto County has considered at different times the concept of creating a “free trade” or “foreign” trade zone.
“It’s the ability to do value-added things to products within a certain zone and not incur as much tax as you may otherwise,” Wells said. “That’s why Rickenbacker is up there. It’s an extremely expensive long and drawn out proposition, but if we could become our own free trade zone. But if we could hook on this whole area, with Cincinnati and Rickenbacker, that would be a tremendous asset. That is probably something we couldn’t do by ourselves because of the expense and the time.”
The former Rickenbacker Air Force Base on the south end of Columbus, decommissioned as an Air Force base in the 1980s, is a free trade zone, and now consists of warehousing with cargo planes flying in an out on a regular basis. They can bring product in for their customers without having to pay the tax.
Wells said Batelle Memorial Institute studied the Scioto County area in the 1980s, and encouraged local officials to pursue inter-modal development, which Wells said would fit within the framework of the proposed Cincinnati Port Authority expansion.
“I can’t say right off the bat that it is totally 100 percent bad or 100 percent good,” Wells said. “It’s certainly a thing that we’ve got to sit down with a lot of folks up and down the river and explore, but it could open up this whole corridor, because everybody’s going to want to be on the Ohio River; they already are.”
Wells said a lot of factors make this region a place that must be considered for shipping.
“The river and railroad and their double-stacking is why we are so attractive,” Wells said. “When we talked to all the people such as the New Steel people, and the coke plant, and all of that, sure, they would like to have an I-70 through here, but with the Industrial Parkway cutting through over there in Wurtland (Ky.), that helped to get to I-64.”
Johnson said it is too early in the process to know if expansion would encompass the Southern Ohio Port Authority, or end where its jurisdiction begins.
“I can’t say that I do know right now — only because we are in the process of evaluating this, and in that process there certainly is an evaluation by the Army Corps of Engineers — that whole consideration of what statistical boundaries really come to be,” Johnson said.
Johnson estimates the Army Corps of Engineers reports could be available in 18 months.
The Cincinnati Port Authority would then be able to inform the government as to the specifics of the boundaries and other information required.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 232, or at email@example.com.