Nation & World

Iowa-Illinois port designation sought along the Mississippi River

Kids stand on a dock on the Mississippi River at a stop by the Canadian Pacific Railway's Holiday Train in Marquette on
Kids stand on a dock on the Mississippi River at a stop by the Canadian Pacific Railway's Holiday Train in Marquette on Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. The train travels through the U.S. and Canada, providing entertainment along its railroads and presenting donations to local food pantries. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

DAVENPORT— Several Iowa and Illinois counties hope to form a sprawling port district along the Mississippi River — a plan that backers say would improve access to federal funding and aid business development.

Bob Sinkler, a retired U.S. Army colonel who worked 30 years for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, told the Quad-City Times that organizers are working on getting governing boards in all 15 counties that share river access to join what would be designated a port statistical area. An application then would be submitted to the Corps of Engineers. If it were approved, the 222-mile-long port area would rank 68th in tonnage in the country.

The Iowa-Illinois plan envisions a port area with many terminals — areas where goods are loaded and unloaded — along the shared length of the river. A similarly long port area stretches along the Ohio River between Ohio and Kentucky.

The port plan does not specifically call for any new construction on the river, nor does it give any state or local group authority to levy taxes or regulate port commerce. It merely designates on paper a federally recognized port where shippers already are doing business and then tracks the shipping volume.

“There’s no downside. It’s just recognizing reality,” Sinkler said.

Designation as a top 100 port would help in competing for federal funds for infrastructure projects, Sinkler said. Corps of Engineers funding sought for the Rock Island District often is sent to other districts aligned with major ports, he said.

Businesses along the river could benefit from the federal designation because area leaders could “better quantify what exists here and then tell that story,” said Paul Rumler, president and CEO of the Quad Cities Chamber.

“So for a marketing perspective, we’ll be able to talk about all the commerce, all the commodities, and all the flow of goods and products that flow up and down our river, from our interstates into ports and onto barges,” Rumler said.

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Talks are continuing with the five county boards that have yet to pass resolutions to join the port plan. Sinkler said it’s hoped they will do so in time to apply for the port designation by the end of January so federal recognition could come by September.

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