Ports & Terminals

New Statistical Port Planned For Ohio River

Communities in West Virginia and Ohio hope to gain approval for a new statistical port district along the Ohio River.

The Mid-Ohio River Valley Port District would comprise the portion of the river between the Pittsburgh Port District and the Huntington Tri-State Port District. It would include parts of nine counties in West Virginia and seven counties in Ohio. No physical facilities would be built. Instead, the port would allow the Corps of Engineers to calculate waterborne tonnage data.

“It’s an economic tool that we can say ‘this is the amount of freight that is coming out of that (roughly) 220 miles of the Ohio River,’” said Mike Paprocki, executive director of the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission, which helps plan transportation priorities for the represented counties. Both the Ohio and West Virginia departments of transportation support the project.

The Ohio River is already home to three statistical ports, including Pittsburgh and Huntington Tri-State as well as the Ports of Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky. The former Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority and the Northern Kentucky Port Authority petitioned for their re-designation as an expanded port district in 2012, and that designation was approved in 2015. It ultimately used the designation to capture data useful in being designated as a federal Marine Highway route, making it eligible for federal grant projects, including a short-haul project for steel coils awarded earlier this year.

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Paprocki said the developers of the Ports of Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky were helpful in planning for the Mid-Ohio Valley Port District. He is hopeful that the designation of the Mid-Ohio Valley Port District will also lead to economic development opportunities.

Initial freight numbers the planning commission has reviewed suggest that the port could be the largest statistical port in the country by volume, Paprocki said. The port district designation could also be useful in developing regional and state associations for river commerce, he said.

The area holds untapped potential for development along the river, including several brownfield sites once associated with the steel or chemical industries.

“We have quite a number of mothballed river terminals that we’d really like to see brought back into health,” Paprocki said.

At the same time, he said, truck traffic can be heavy on area roads, as has been the case in many other places throughout the nation, and there are few opportunities to build new highway corridors.

“But we have this river system that can help us out,” Paprocki said, noting the importance of taking advantage of the region’s geography.

The designation could also help the region receive funding for antiquated infrastructure, including locks and dams, he said.

Planning for the statistical port was included as part of a $100,000 Ohio Department of Transportation economic impact study approved by state legislators last year. The contractor, W.R. Coles Associates of Nashville, Tenn., has been gathering letters of support for the port district.

An example of such a letter was from Jefferson County commissioners, who said such a port would be good for the region because it will help build market awareness “and may influence potential investors, which will lead to economic growth for our area.”

Paprocki said the contractor expects to submit the final proposal for the statistical port later this month. The Corps will have the final decision on whether to create the port district.