Ports & Terminals

New Master Plan Charts Course For Port Of Memphis For Coming Decades

Under development for two years, the Master Plan for the Port of Memphis was released to the public in February after having been presented in October to a joint meeting of the Memphis & Shelby County Port Commission and the Memphis Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE), the region’s economic development authority.

The Master Plan is designed to guide the port’s growth and development for the next 20 to 50 years. It was developed by engineering consulting firm Pickering, founded in 1946 and based in Mississippi. Pickering’s partner in the effort has been Moffatt & Nichol, a global infrastructure advisory firm that provides solutions to clients in the marine terminal, transportation, energy, environmental, federal, and urban development markets (WJ, April 23, 2018).

Strategic Location, Big Impact

While the Port of Memphis has unique advantages, it also has specific challenges to address.

The International Port of Memphis bills itself as the second largest inland port of the shallow-draft portion of the Mississippi River and the fifth largest inland port in the U.S. The International Port of Memphis covers the Tennessee and Arkansas sides of the Mississippi River from Mile 725 to Mile 740. Within this 15-mile reach, there are 68 water-fronted facilities, 37 of which are terminals moving products including petroleum, tar, asphalt, cement, steel, coal, salt, fertilizers, rock and gravel, and grains.

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The Port of Memphis offers a full suite of maritime and riverine support services, a slack-water harbor, numerous private marine terminals and a skilled maritime workforce. It lies at a unique juncture of north-south and east-west interstate highways, and also at one of the few junctures of five Class 1 railroads. The Memphis region is ringed by major intermodal facilities, including the intermodal yard in Pidgeon Industrial Park operate by the Canadian National Railway and CSX.

The port has access to Memphis International Airport, the busiest cargo airport in the U.S., and is served by a variety of pipelines.

With an annual economic impact of about $9.3 billion, the Port of Memphis “contributes significantly to the local, regional and statewide economies,” according to its website.

Port-related jobs have the highest multiplier effect of any other category of jobs. Every port-related job creates 1.5 indirect jobs. For every specifically water transportation job, 3.7 indirect jobs are created in Shelby County.

Presidents Island Challenges

The Master Plan identifies challenges the port must address to maximize growth.

While the Port of Memphis sits at a highly advantageous location on the inland waterway system and has “robust” infrastructure connectivity, its “surrounding regional economy is weaker than other growth markets such as Atlanta and Dallas.”

The plan identifies “the most immediate set of impediments to growth” as the limitations of the 70-year-old Presidents Island facility. It has been working at capacity for many years, and its remaining parcels are too small to attract most tenants. The report identifies more than $20 million worth of needed repairs and improvements. It says the public marine terminal is “at the end of its useful life.” It tentatively identifies the cost of immediate safety repairs at $4 million and says the cost of relocating the terminal to the TVA Allen site is “unknown at this sime.”

It might be possible to expand the island, but only at exorbitant cost. The report estimates that reclaiming the property to an elevation above flood levels and providing road and rail services to the 875 acres identified in the master plan buildout, would require more than $50 million and could take more than a year just to get permits and approvals.

The report says a reclamation project on the island is “fraught with significant risk.”

With an estimated $44 million in local tax revenues attributable to Port of Memphis employers, the plan says the port, EDGE and the city should seek a “long-term, dedicated source of funding for capital improvements on Presidents Island,” either with utility fees or earmarks of local revenues.

Pidgeon Industrial Park

The report is more bullish on the 4,500-acre Pidgeon Industrial Park, which has road, rail and utility service, and nearly 2,300 acres available for development on land controlled by the port or major tenants Electrolux and Nucor.

The report urges a “different approach to ground improvements” needed at all the port’s facilities,” and argues that “failure to address the Pidgeon Industrial Park soil conditions will lead to continued underutilization of the Pidgeon land assets and a failure to fully capitalize on the Canadian National/CSX intermodal yard.” It recommends a soil-compacting program supported by grants from Tennessee Economic and Community Development and/or the Tennessee Valley Authority.

The plan says the industries most likely to be attracted to Pidgeon  Park include steel finishing and production, agricultural processing and food production, intermodal logistics and distribution, wastepaper and plastics recycling and aggregation, and empty container and trailer pools.

While “attracting all five target industries to Pidgeon Industrial park over the next 10 years will require significant public and private investments,” a successful result could yield more than 1,900 new direct jobs and 2.200 new indirect jobs that would produce an annual economic impacts of $655 million and nearly $8 million in annual tax revenues, the plan said.

On the waterway cargo front, the plan cites “declining or flat cargo volumes and values” on the Mississippi River and says “there is not a large amount of discretionary cargo the Port of Memphis could feasibly capture from other riverports or other north-south rail or highway corridors.”

The plan recommends that the port acquire two nearby properties, including the old TVA Allen site, which has been decommissioned and is in a design demolition phase. Its main steam plant will take four to five years to demolish, and it has coal ash ponds that will need to be remediated. But once acquired and prepared, the property, along with a peninsula across the TVA harbor to the north that the city owns, “lend themselves to more medium-term economic development opportunities to ensure another 20-30 years of uninterrupted growth.”

In the longer term, the plan envisions chemical and petrochemical firms and auto parts makers finding the port and its amenities attractive.