By Sarah Wilson
THE Commercial Dispatch
COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) Dirt roads surrounded by overgrown foliage lead to the Lowndes County Port, which overlooks the Tennesee-Tombigbee River.
Barges of scrap metal and wood move along the water, parking at the port en route to their destinations.
And more water traffic will be rolling down the river soon.
The Lowndes County Port Authority is planning new waterway projects to be completed within the next two to three years.
One of the projects, each of which will benefit Lowndes County and boost revenue, is a $5 million to $6 million plan to extend rail service to the west bank of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. The rail spur will connect the existing railroad, which travels over the river to the west bank and allow Kinder-Morgan, the largest terminal company in the United States, railway access to transport its goods.
Kinder-Morgan is housed on a small parcel of land, complete with a tin office on a hill and a large blue and yellow E-Crane. One recent afternoon, the hydraulic crane was unloading scrap metal into trucks from a barge, just out of view from a dirt road near Kinder Morgan.
“The objective is to get rail service to the other side of the river,” said John Hardy, port director. “The rail spur will enable Kinder-Morgan — and future companies that establish there — rail access.”
He drew an invisible line in a curve to show where the new railway track would extend down and under the existing overhead track.
The Port Authority has approximately 30 acres (12 ha) of land available for commercial development on the west bank, the property on the island, and about 70 acres (28 ha) on the east.
The addition of rail service to the area will be appealing to businesses wanting to locate in Lowndes County, as currently the only transport options are by truck and water.
The Port Authority is looking at options for funding for the project; Hardy foresees it being completed within the next two to three years.
Another project on the Port Authority’s list is extending the dock on the west bank where Kinder-Morgan currently unloads barges. They want to add 150 ft. (46 m) to the dock, which will allow Kinder-Morgan to double their efficiency by having the ability to unload two barges at a time.
“They are going to be able to get two barges end to end over there so they will become more flexible and efficient,” said Hardy. “It will hopefully lead to more business in the future. Kinder-Morgan already has one E-crane and they’ll provide some sort of second unloading machine for the extended dock.”
The Army Corps of Engineers recently broke ground on a related project to build a barge fleeting area down the river from where the Kinder-Morgan dock operates. Bulldozers are moving dirt around the property, making flat land for the future barges. The outskirts have large piles of dirt, which will later be used to put the land on a higher level than it is now.
The Port Authority has been helping secure funding for the project, as they mutually will benefit from its completion by being able to store barges in the fleeting area while they are waiting to be unloaded at the Kinder-Morgan station.
The Army Corps of Engineers received a grant from the federal government to build the fleeting area in the amount of $600,000 but will require an additional $350,000 to $400,000 to fully fund the project.
Once complete, the fleeting area will be able to house 30 barges.
The Corps expects to break ground this summer and finish by the end of the year.
“The rail, the dock and the barge fleeting area will allow us to more efficiently handle barges and waterborne cargo and therefore give industries more cost competitive water transportation options. It will also help the link in their recruiting of industries to the area,” Hardy said. “All of the projects will improve the whole situation.”