Ohio’s Maritime Assistance Program is a new, $23 million grant program funded by the state of Ohio that provides a 50-50 funding match for infrastructure improvements at ports on the Ohio River and Lake Erie or businesses within those ports. Pictured is the Columbiana County Port Authority’s Wellsville intermodal facility. Executive director Penny Raina said the facility seems to be a good fit for the program, and her team plans to meet with two businesses with ideas for potential projects. (Photo courtesy of Ohio Department of Transportation)
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Ohio Grant Program Offers Port, Business Funding Matches

A new multi-million dollar Ohio Port Authority grant program is providing funding to ports along the Ohio River and Lake Erie or businesses within ports.

The Ohio Maritime Assistance Program began accepting applications from ports January 27 and will continue through March 27. It provides $11 million in funding through June 30 and another $12 million in funding for the 12 months ending June 30, 2021.

“It’s an Ohio Port Authority-driven program that is directed primarily at port authorities that do waterfront or water port operations, doing business either on the Ohio River or the Great Lakes,” said Mark Locker, the manager of maritime, freight and logistics for the Ohio Department of Transportation’s office of statewide planning and research.

Ports may apply for the funding for themselves, for businesses located with the port authority’s boundaries or, when a port’s charter allows, other nearby related businesses. The competitive grant program also requires a 50-50 match from the port or business benefitting from the funding.

To be eligible, a port authority must own an active cargo terminal on either the Ohio River or Lake Erie. It must also be a federally designated economic opportunity zone with a stevedoring operation. Locker said the state has identified 27 ports that appear to qualify for the funds, so dozens of businesses operating within those ports could benefit.

“It’s geared toward port authorities that are already set up and doing business, to help them do more with importing and exporting,” Locker said. “If a private business wants to take advantage of that, they can do so, but must apply through their local port authority.”

The legislation creating the program is unique in that the funds are coming from the state of Ohio to the Department of Transportation instead of being federal pass-through funds. That means the funding can be used for in-the-water assets, unlike most federal funding, Locker said. Examples he gave for eligible projects included land acquisition, construction and repair of warehouses, railroad tracks, roadways, gates, fencing, wharfs, dredging, acquisition of cargo handling equipment, mobile shore cranes, stationary cranes, craneways, conveyors, bulk handling equipment, ship loading and unloading equipment and planning and design costs.

“We are going to give priority, at least for this round, to construction-ready projects,” Locker said. “We want to make sure this money is spent on projects that are ready to go.”

Applications should demonstrate how a project will increase operational capacity of the cargo terminal and how that will attract new business.

DOT officials have met with port authorities for the past six months to talk about developing projects that might fit the program, Locker said.

The Maritime Assistance Program is one result of the recently completed Ohio Maritime Study, Locker said. The state allocated the funding as a boost to economic development. The program is also a result of the governor asking the state to develop a comprehensive maritime strategy, he said.

‘Extra Shot In The Arm’

Eric Thomas, executive director of the Central Ohio River Business Association, representing river-related businesses in the Cincinnati area, said although the grant program is a new one and businesses are still determining which projects qualify, it has potential.

“Anytime you can get funding to support your expansion or growth of your business, it’s going to be a good thing,” he said.

He noted that many small public ports find that infrastructure improvements are costly to make.

“You can have big dreams, but you have to come up with the money to do it,” he said. “Sometimes you need that extra shot in the arm.”

He called the Maritime Assistance Program well-spent money from the state, and said CORBA is trying to get the word out about the program to its membership.

Penny Traina, executive director of the Columbiana County Port Authority in northeast Ohio, said the Maritime Assistance Program appears to be a good fit for its Wellsville intermodal facility, which is the last deep-river port on the Ohio River. About 15 businesses in Columbiana County operate on the Ohio River, and the port has reached out to all of them to see if they would be interested in submitting a project, she said.

She expected a team from the port to visit two businesses to discuss potential projects this week. Projects that have been discussed include new barge cells and the construction or repair of warehouses.

“We’re appreciative to the state of Ohio for allocating the grant money to help increase the efficiency and capacity of maritime cargo,” Traina said.

For more information or to apply, visit maritime.ohio.gov and look under the Maritime Assistance Program section of the page.

Caption for photo: Ohio’s Maritime Assistance Program is a new, $23 million grant program funded by the state of Ohio that provides a 50-50 funding match for infrastructure improvements at ports on the Ohio River and Lake Erie or businesses within those ports. Pictured is the Columbiana County Port Authority’s Wellsville intermodal facility. Executive director Penny Raina said the facility seems to be a good fit for the program, and her team plans to meet with two businesses with ideas for potential projects. (Photo courtesy of Ohio Department of Transportation)

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