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Port authority told to keep momentum going

The Heartland Port Authority is working to keep the momentum going to finalize the transfer of state land for a Missouri River port in Jefferson City.

Last week, the authority cleared a major hurdle when the Legislature passed a bill to transfer 116 acres of state-owned land just east of the Ike Skelton Training Facility to the port authority for a port.

Gov. Mike Parson has to sign off on the legislation to make the land transfer complete.

At a port authority meeting Tuesday morning, board members heard from state Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville, who along with state Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, sponsored the land transfer legislation.

Veit said it would be a good idea for the board to send a letter to Parson, thanking him for his support in the past and indicating the board’s willingness to work with him to make the land transfer complete. He also said Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe has indicated he will give whatever support the board may need to get the deal finalized.

“I think we’ll be amazed at what this will accomplish in the future,” Veit said. “This will help to relieve congestion on the highways. I think the state will see that this is a good economic development opportunity.”

Veit also said the bill would eliminate a railroad crossing at the Jefferson City Correctional Center with a bridge and there was a land transfer for an easement in the port bill.

On a related note, Missy Bonnot, chamber economic development director, said the group can start using funds from a USDA Missouri Rural Business Development Grant.

The port authority applied for the grant in April 2019 for an amount of $187,000. They eventually were awarded a grant for $120,000.

The grant money will be used to fund needed clearances under the National Environmental Policy Act that the port site would have to meet — including farmland impact, hydraulic modeling and determining if any endangered species are in the area where the port would be located. It would also go toward doing preliminary planning, concept designs, and estimates for

costs for roads and bridges to the port.

Bonnot said there is no timeline for how soon the grant money had to be spent, but they hope to have the concept plans done by the end of the year if not sooner.

Meanwhile, the port authority board is also looking to find ways to bring in more money as it is currently operating in the red.

As of last week, the port authority budget states the board spent $2,794 more than what it had budgeted.

The board started out with $23,471 in administrative money from the Missouri Department of Transportation. MoDOT gives ports across the state money for administrative actions. Along with fees from affiliate groups who support ports, which added up to $1,000, the total Heartland revenue for 2020 was $24,471.

This year, the port authority board agreed to continue to have the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce handle the group’s administrative services for $25,000. Along with other expenses such as dues to the Missouri Port Authority Association and fees for legal council the total expenses came up to $27,265.

Bonnot said they had hoped to get $29,000 in administrative funds from MoDOT and she had already put in request for any of those funds that other ports didn’t use, which could become available after the end of the state’s fiscal year June 30. She was hopeful they could get as much as $6,000.

Board Treasurer Kris Scheperle said they may need to look at membership dues from entities that would benefit from the port or turning to the governments of Cole and Callaway counties and Jefferson City who have in the past contributed financially to port matters.

“We need to take care of the obligations to the people who are helping us,” Scheperle said.