Ports & Terminals

Paducah Area Leaders Eyeing Second Public Riverport

McCracken County, Ky., and its economic development partners have applied for a $3.5 million federal grant that would allow the development of a new public riverport on wooded property along the Ohio River.

Located at Mile 944, the 37.924-acre rural site named in the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant application, filed February 28, is part of a larger development called the Ohio River Triple Rail Site that Greater Paducah Economic Development (GPED) has been trying to market for the past few years, GPED CEO/President Bruce Wilcox said.

Through its industrial development authority, GPED owns or has optioned about 800 acres of property, expandable to 1,000 acres, in west McCracken County. The site is 9 river miles west of the Paducah-McCracken County Riverport Authority, located in the downtown Paducah area at Tennessee River Mile 1.3-2.0, near where the Tennessee empties into the Ohio River. The intent through the grant would be for the riverport authority to operate an auxiliary port at the new site, which would be called Paducah Riverport–West. It would either be sold to the riverport authority or operated by the riverport via a long-term lease, Wilcox said. That would allow it to take advantage of the port’s existing Foreign Trade Zone designation and other available grant programs for port projects.

“Riverport–West is not a new concept,” he said. “It’s been a wish of the community for many years.”

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The grant would pay for the pre-construction activities required to prepare the site for construction of the port infrastructure as early as 2025, according to the application. That includes environmental study and analysis requirements, permitting, engineering design up to 90 percent completion, a market study feasibility, benefit-cost analysis and community engagement activities. The grant would not require any local match as its location qualifies as being federally designated as a rural community.

Port Design Plans

Plans call for an 800-foot-long dock facility with three barge berths. As the site is within the flood plain, the barge dock and three berths will be designed to be resilient during times that the river overflows its banks, according to the grant application.

The application notes that bulk and break-bulk and containerized cargoes would be expected to pass through Riverport West, including specialty minerals and commodities, steel bulk scrap, coils and rebar, salt and feldspar, project cargoes and containers. It would also be designed to accept supersacks of specialty minerals and commodities.

“The project design will include elements to move toward zero emissions at the port by incorporating electric capacity and design elements to support the use of electric powered equipment,” according to the grant application. “Design considerations will include other alternative fuels to support the movement of goods on waterways and via rail, including hydrogen and sustainable liquid fuels. Cold ironing, or allowing AF vessels to recharge while loading and/or unloading, can also reduce diesel-generated emissions and improve air and noise pollution in nearby disadvantaged communities both in Kentucky and across the Ohio River in Metropolis, Ill.”

If awarded the grant, project developers anticipate pre-engineering work could begin as soon as the fourth quarter of 2023. Even if an element takes more time than anticipated, the work, which includes permitting and planning but not construction, would be complete no later than June 30, 2027, with all funds expended by September 30, 2032.

Supported By Industry

The grant is bolstered by more than 15 letters of support, including from Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and U.S. Rep. James Comer; a letter co-written by Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and Jim Gray, secretary of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet; several state and local political representatives; the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce; and river organizations, including Inland Rivers, Ports and Terminals Inc. and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Authority.

Economic prospects who have looked at the development site previously have indicated that a challenge for site selection has been its lack of a public riverport, although it is on land across the road from Four Rivers Marine Terminal, owned and operated by SCH Services LLC and affiliated with Watco. Wilcox noted that companies that might be interested in partnering with Four Rivers Terminal would also have that possibility. The company already has two 150-railcar loops on its site.

Paducah-McCracken County Riverport Authority Executive Director Tim Cahill has indicated the property would be a good fit for the riverport. As noted in the grant application, the current demand for port services exceeds the capacity of its current facilities, the port is nearing completion of leasing all available parcels, and there is no vacant land adjacent to the existing port that could be purchased or leased to create outside laydown areas or available covered storage areas to serve additional customers or cargo. Additionally, the existing port has no rail access.

“Riverport-West would serve a dual purpose in expanding Paducah’s public riverport operations as well as accommodate industrial development at Paducah’s Triple Rail Site,” according to the grant application

Property Purchase And Enhancements

The Paducah-McCracken County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) purchased the potential riverport site from Canadian National Railway Company (CN Railway) on October 11, 2022, according to the deed. The purchase price was $370,000. The property includes 1,000 linear feet of river frontage and is bounded by Metropolis Ferry Landing Road to the east, Noble Road to the south, the Paducah & Louisville Railway line to the west and the Ohio River to the north.

Wilcox said a key advantage of the property is that it is one of only three sites in the Midwest in which rail access is available going in all four cardinal directions, with CN providing access to the north and south, BNSF Railway to the west and, to the east, the Paducah & Louisville Railway, which has interchange service with Norfolk Southern in Madisonville, Ky., and with CSX in Louisville, Ky. There is already a rail spur on the site.

Additionally, road access will be available through a $10 million, state-funded heavy access road coming to the site that was included in the biennium budget. Wilcox said road construction is expected to start in late summer. The site is also located 3 miles from Interstate 24 and approximately 20 miles from the I-69 interchange. “So you have north, south, east and west access in very close proximity,” Wilcox said.

Additionally, a $500,000 Kentucky Product Development Initiative (KDPI) grant announced last month will allow for the extension of sewers to the site, with a 100 percent local match provided by the Paducah-McCracken County Joint Sewer Agency.

Wilcox said GPED has had “unprecedented activity” concerning its three available McCracken County sites, including the Triple Rail site with the port project. As featured speaker for the Rotary Club of Paducah in January, he told club members that the average size of projects with which economic developers have worked requires $1.2 billion in capital investment.

Wilcox said, “This site is getting tremendous interest.”