CORBA Meeting Includes Project Updates, Discussion Of COB Potential

The future of container-on-barge service, potential marine highway projects, plans for a statistical port on the Ohio River and an ongoing public port study by the state of Kentucky were among the topics for the Central Ohio River Business Association (CORBA)’s regional maritime committee meeting September 2.

The meeting was held over the videoconferencing software Zoom because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

CORBA chairman Scott James talked about work the association has done to promote the expansion of container-on-barge service.

“We’ve been working with Mubea to kind of build a model that would be able to compare the costs of importing a container via the East Coast, which is what they currently do, and compare that to what it looks like coming through the Gulf,” James said. Mubea is a German automotive supplier.

James said initial assessments have shown that the cost of shipping a container from Rotterdam in the Netherlands to Florence in northern Kentucky is not much different if the container is instead brought through the Port of New Orleans and barged to Memphis before trucking the rest of the way to its destination.

“What we’re finding is, the numbers are pretty darn close,” James said.

He suggested there may be even more opportunity with container-on-barge service in the St. Louis, Mo., area.

“That route is starting to develop,” James said.

Eventually, he said, as regular container-on-barge service is established at ports to the north and east, such as the Paducah-McCracken County Riverport Authority or the Port of Indiana-Jeffersonville, container-on-barge could bring more savings to customers.

“It will develop, but in the meantime we could position the containers in Memphis or St. Louis,” James said.

James noted that one of the biggest potential developments for establishing more widespread container-on-barge service is the state of Illinois allocating $40 million to the Alexander-Cairo Port District in Cairo, Ill., for port development.

“What it does is it will allow that movement on the Mississippi, to bring containers north, stop off at Cairo and build mass and then come onto the Ohio, just right at the nexus,” James said.

For now, CORBA members agreed they need to continue building out the models of how container-on-barge to Memphis or St. Louis could help customers bringing products to the Cincinnati area and communicate that message well, reaching out to as many industry leaders as possible.

“We need to be in front of everybody,” James said.

Marine Highway Projects

Tony Nath of Nucor Steel talked about the potential for new marine highway projects. Nucor announced in February that it had received a marine highway designation for a new short-haul service along the M-70 marine highway route , making it an approved project eligible for potential federal grant funding. That project uses barge transportation to replace trucks connecting Nucor’s manufacturing facility in Gallatin, Ky., with customers in the Cincinnati to Louisville Marine Highway Route on the M-70 using a regularly scheduled barge service instead of flatbed tractor-trailers to transport steel coils.

The project is working so well that Nath indicated there may be room for additional barging opportunities.

“We’ve got a few things on the horizon,” he said, mentioning the potential for moving incoming scrap and outbound steel plate and steel coils. Additionally, he said, Nucor is working with an on-site contractor to determine the possibility of expanding its 25-year-old terminal.

“We’re looking at increasing our volume on the water over the next five years, so we’ve just started getting the ball rolling so we can determine how to use the marine highway project at Gallatin,” he said.

CORBA President Eric Thomas asked about the effects of COVID-19 on Nucor’s projects. Nath noted that Nucor had more than $2 billion in capital projects going on when COVID-19 hit, and those projects were, largely, brought to a standstill. Within the past three to four weeks, however, he said Nucor operations in both Gallatin and Brandenburg, also in Kentucky, have been released to go back to full construction operations.

Mid-Ohio Port District

Mark Locker, program manager for maritime, freight and logistics for the Ohio Department of Transportation, gave an update on efforts to create the Mid-Ohio River Valley Port District.

The port 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 new physical facilities would be built. Instead, the port would allow the Corps of Engineers to calculate waterborne tonnage data.

The final proposal for the statistical port has been submitted to the Huntington Engineer District, Locker said.

“It’s a little different twist because in the past, as in Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky, you had a statistical port that existed and they expanded that statistical port,” Locker said. “In this case, we’re creating something that had not existed, so it took us a little while, but we’re getting there. We’re making positive inroads. We’ve submitted the final documentation to the Army Corps’ Huntington District. The Huntington District has looked at it. It looks very approvable. We are hoping to get the commander’s signature on it very soon.”

Following that, he said, the plan would need further approval from the Waterborne Commerce Statistics Center as well as from the Institute for Water Resources in Alexandria, Va., all of which should take a few months.

“We’re making really good progress,” Locker said.

Kentucky Freight Study

Jeremy Edgeworth, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s freight, rail and waterways coordinator, talked about the ongoing Kentucky Riverports, Highway and Rail Freight Analysis Study, the first study done on the state’s public riverports since 2008.

“We’re looking at how we can market our waterways and how we can use them better,” Edgeworth said.

A consultant is looking into how freight is currently being moved in Kentucky and beginning to forecast potential trends in freight movement, he said. He anticipated holding community meetings with some of those ports and the surrounding maritime community, likely over a virtual platform, within the next month to month and a half.

CORBA’s regional maritime committee meets regularly once every two months. The next meeting is set for November 4 and will also likely take place over Zoom, Thomas said.

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