Ports & Terminals

Illinois Budget Includes $1 Million For Cairo Port Project

The struggling river town of Cairo, Ill., will get $1 million to support a project to revive it as a river port in the Illinois state budget signed June 4 by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

It was Rauner’s first budget since he took office in January 2015. The budget process has been marked by bitter wrangling and partisan deadlock between the Republican Rauner and the Democratic-controlled legislature since he was elected. The main issue is what to do about the state’s crushing debt. Illinois is faced with $203 billion in unfunded obligations, or debt, mainly for state and local retirement benefits.

In 2017, the state’s credit rating was downgraded by credit rating agency S&P Global Ratings to BBB-, the lowest of any state, just one notch above a noninvestment-grade, or “junk,” rating. S&P also placed the state rating on “negative” watch, meaning the agency could downgrade Illinois again in the near future.

In a state where partisanship paralyzes many initiatives, members of both parties are agreed on efforts to revive Cairo. A group of local and state officials have been working for years to re-establish it as a port town. The Alexander-Cairo Port District has existed on paper since 2010 and has had a full complement of members since 2014. It is moving ahead with plans for reviving the port.

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Earlier this year, the port received a grant of $100,000 from the Rauner Family Foundation (WJ, February 12).

That money is being used to update a plan for the port that was created several years ago by St. Louis, Mo.-based CDG Engineering.

It is being updated to reflect changing market conditions by Ely Consulting Group Ltd., a business consultant firm based in Springfield, Ill.

On his website, Illinois State Sen. Dale Fowler (R-Harrisburg) said, “This budget contains an encouraging investment in the river port project for Cairo and the rest of Southern Illinois, directing much-needed funding toward permitting and design costs for the project. The river port would have a major economic impact on our region, and I’m encouraged that this budget package recognizes the project’s possibilities.”

“The river port project would help revitalize an economically deprived community in our state which has so much untapped potential,” said Rauner. “I would like to applaud Sen. Fowler for his hard work on this ongoing project and look forward to the future developments on this exciting public-private investment for the state and the region.”

Any port plan will take years before building begins. The question is how much of a town will be left by then. The nearly abandoned town has a population of less than 2,000, down from a high of 15,000 in the 1960s. It is regularly featured on travel sites that showcase “ghost towns” and “abandoned” spaces.

In 2017, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) decided to demolish two Cairo public housing projects built in the 1940s rather than repair them. It spent millions in vouchers to move its residents to other subsidized housing.