Director says SEMO Port needs money for dredging

Tuesday, June 21, 2011
An aerial view of the Southeast Missouri Regional Port Authority located on the Mississippi River. (Laura Simon)

The Southeast Missouri Regional Port Authority is dredging up old problems of, well, dredging, or at least obtaining the funding to do so in 2011.

The port authority could soon find itself in a predicament similar to last year, when it nearly couldn't pay to scrape the silt and mud from the riverbed and allow commercial traffic into and out of the port. In 2010, Cape Girardeau County signed over a $425,000 Community Development Block Grant to pay for the necessary dredging.

Dan Overbey, executive director of the port, said no funding is in place to dredge the harbor in 2011. The port authority received a letter from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the spring of 2010 stating the harbor would no longer be dredged by the corps because the port's five-year average of shipped tonnage dropped below 1 million tons a year. The port contended, however, that there were no requirements listed in the 1987 contract between the corps and the port authority.

Overbey said he is hopeful some of the money the corps receives to help with flooding recovery can find its way to help with dredging the port, or that Missouri's congressional delegation can help find a way to secure funding.

Dredging in the local port and those downriver has been an issue many legislators have spoken out about since last year. In 2010, U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson met with the corps and port authority board members on several occasions and said she would pursue funding, as well as check into whether the corps policy on shipping requirements could be lowered.

Jeffrey Connor, Emerson's chief of staff, said she was able to secure about $1 billion in emergency funding for the corps to address recent Mississippi River and Missouri River floods, and any money left over could eventually be used for dredging.

"There's over a billion dollars in there for emergency expenses that are associated with the flooding up and down the river," Connor said.

"Certainly we will continue to advocate for the kind of attention our ports received in the past, and in the case of the SEMO Port a little better than in the past, but as far the corps priorities are concerned, it's really hard to know what they are because of all that's happened over the past several months," Connor said.

According to Overbey, dredging the port, which borders Cape Girardeau and Scott counties, is more important this year than it has been. High water from the spring flooding means more silt and a faster fill.

"Last year we dredged the areas we needed most, and you can kind of get by with that for a year or two, but then you really have to clean house," he said.

In April, Sen. Claire McCaskill and Sen. Roy Blunt signed a letter sent by a group of senators from Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi to President Barack Obama, citing concern for the lack of harbor dredging along the Mississippi River by the corps and the effect its policies were having on river transportation.

A statement issued Monday from Blunt's office said as general funds for the corps dwindle, small ports are bearing the brunt of cutbacks.

"We need to prioritize spending, and I'm working to ensure that inland ports receive their fair share of funding," the statement said.

Laura Myron, spokeswoman for McCaskill, said that the senator asked the corps to make dredging a priority in their project list last year and plans to do so again this year.

According to Overbey, the port can borrow money from a private bank if absolutely necessary but would rather not so it can focus on serving new companies and creating jobs.

"It's one of those things we would like to avoid," he said. "A last-ditch effort."

eragan@semissourian.com

243-6635

Pertinent address:

10 Bill Bess Drive, Scott City, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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