Ports & Terminals

Campaign For Consolidated Upper Mississippi River Port District Accelerating

A campaign to have a 221-mile stretch of terminals and ports in the Upper Mississippi River consolidated into a single federally recognized port district is gaining steam.

Robert Sinkler, the campaign’s prime mover, has been gathering letters of support from local economic development organizations, including the Bi-State Regional Commission. Sinkler is a former commander of the Rock Island Engineer District, who is now a senior advisor at Dawson & Associates.

Eleven out of 15 counties that would be part of the new port district have already agreed, and Sinkler hopes the other four will soon be on board. He has sent his proposal to almost every local and state official who could help move the process along.

On November 27, the Illinois Soybean Association wrote to Col. Steven Sattinger, current commander and district engineer of the Rock Island District, to express its support for creating three new port statistical areas (PSAs): the Mississippi River Ports of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois, the Illinois Waterway Ports and Terminals, and the Mid-America  Port.

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In a December 27 letter to Sattinger, Sinkler pointed out, “The Heart of America Regional Port District (part of the proposed Illinois Waterway Ports and Terminal PSA) was created in 2003 by state legislation, but we have been struggling for 16 years to try and get it federally recognized as a PSA and officially on the U.S. Port List.”

Sinkler wants the Corps’ Waterborne Commerce Statistics Center to grant the designation by September of this year. The proposed new port authority would not, for now, have taxing or land-use authority or be able to issue debt.

Sinkler and other promoters believe establishing the districts as PSAs is an important first step because it allows cargo and other figures to be aggregated, to present what they believe is a better and more accurate picture of the region’s port potential.

There’s another important reason to unify and consolidate data, Sinkler said in his December 27 letter: “[I]t makes us competitive for a wide range of grants and funding opportunities.”

Sinkler credits an August article in The Waterways Journal with helping to spark new interest in the port project. Since then, local papers have editorialized in favor of the move. A January 12 joint editorial in the Moline Dispatch and Rock Island Argus pointed to other elongated port districts and said, “It’s not too late to catch on.” The editorial continued, “There is much to be gained in seeing this stretch of the Mississippi River as a single entity. It could mean more federal funds, greater interest from economic development prospects and jobs for the Quad Cities.”

In 2016, a 225-mile river zone including Cincinnati received a new Corps of Engineers designation as “The Ports of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.” That designation was the work of the Central Ohio River Business Association (CORBA), made up of a group of river-related businesses and ports. St. Louis has marketed a 70-mile stretch of the Mississippi River in and near the city as “America’s Ag Coast.”