New Illinois Waterway Port District Plots Future
A lot has changed in the years since Robert Sinkler, former commander of the Rock Island Engineer District, began his efforts to persuade terminals and ports on the Upper Mississippi River and along the Illinois River to band together in statistical port districts. Local business and civic leaders now have lined up behind the idea.
On October 12, when the Illinois Waterways Ports had its first of what is planned to become annual meetings at the EastPort Marina in East Peoria, Ill., State Sen. Dave Koehler (D-Peoria) spoke about how the port designation would help the district attract investments. The federal designation last year named a 10-county, 175-mile stretch of the river as the Illinois Waterway Ports and Terminals Port Statistical Area. Peoria Mayor Rita Ali and East Peoria Mayor John Kahl both spoke at the event, and the meeting received heavy coverage from local media outlets.
Sinkler, who is also the water infrastructure director for the Heart of Illinois Regional Port District, said Illinois waterways support 160,000 jobs and generate $36 billion in economic activity each year. He said the statistical port designation “opens up or increases the opportunity for additional federal investment from a wide variety of sources, to flow into the region.”
Dan Silverthorn, board chairman of the Heart of Illinois Regional Port District, said, “By putting these 10 counties together, basically, and creating this linear port and a port statistical area, we now are recognized by the federal government as this 42nd largest port in the nation. That gives us a lot of political power, I think, [and] gives us a lot of strength in being able to help all those operators and all businesses in that part of the river.”
Other participants included Bill Bodine, director of business and regulatory affairs for the Illinois Farm Bureau; Andrew Larson, director of government relations and strategy for the Illinois Soybean Association; and Jim Tarmann, managing director of the Illinois Corn Growers Association. Ray Lees, planning program manager for the Peoria-based Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, said the Illinois Department of Transportation has designated $100 million toward capital investments to ports and other areas along the Illinois River.
The Heart of Illinois Regional Port District, also known as TransPort, is in central Illinois. Its boundaries consist of Peoria, Fulton, Tazewell, Woodford and Marshall counties and all of Mason County except for Havana Township.
Travis Black, the director of inland waterways at the Maritime Administration’s office in St. Louis, said the designation would help the port district win grants from the America’s Marine Highways program.
Dr. Anshu Singh, the director of sustainability and conservation for the Corn Belt Ports, said funding for ecology projects is also critical. She said migratory birds follow the Illinois River on their way to and from Canada. Now that the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP) has received its first-ever funding under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, she said, the way is open for funding for the Upper Mississippi River Program and the Illinois River Restoration Program.