Ports & Terminals

Ports Of Indiana Commission Looks Toward Future

The Ports of Indiana Commission welcomed two new port directors and received an update on its business and plans for the future at its meeting June 15 in Mount Vernon, Ind.

The meeting was held at Consolidated Grain and Barge Company (CGB) in Mount Vernon.

George Ott was introduced as the new director of the Jeffersonville port. He had served as operations manager since 2019 and had been interim director since Jeff Miles retired in July 2022. Jason May is the new director in Mount Vernon. He had been serving as an operations consultant with Ports of Indiana since February and is filling a director’s role left vacant since Ben Weithman resigned in October 2022. May has 25 years of experience in logistics, business development and operations. A reception for May followed the pubic portion of the meeting.

To begin the meeting, Greg Beck, senior vice president and chief administrative officer of CGB, gave a brief presentation. One major effort of CGB at the Jeffersonville port has been construction of a $5 million corn cleaner, Beck said.

Sign up for Waterway Journal's weekly newsletter.Our weekly newsletter delivers the latest inland marine news straight to your inbox including breaking news, our exclusive columns and much more.

Tom Malecha, CGB’s senior vice president of soybean processing, also spoke about construction of a new CGB facility in North Dakota. Additionally, the company is currently evaluating the potential addition of a $70 million soybean oil refinery at Mount Vernon, he said.

When asked what Ports of Indiana could do to help CGB continue to expand its business, Beck said, “Probably our number one concern is the lock and dam situation.”

“Anything you can do to advocate for infrastructure, for lock and dam repair, would be absolutely critical,” he added.

Barging soy products is essential to farmers’ bottom line, he said, noting that last year’s low water ultimately caused a $1 a bushel increase on freight costs that went directly back to the farmer.

“One dollar difference on barge freight was something I’ve never seen in my career,” Beck said.

Ports of Indiana CEO Jody Peacock followed the CGB presentation with a port district business update.

The year 2023 has been a good one so far with shipments up by 5 percent, led by coal, steel, grain, soy products and fertilizer. The largest increases have come from coal, steel and dried distillers’ grains (DDGs).

He also noted that Ports of Indiana has fielded the most business development inquiries it has ever seen while also continuing work on $60 million in existing grant projects. It is reviewing inquiries for six new potential projects that could result in investments in the billions of dollars, he said.

Peacock also noted that a statistical change in port district boundaries resulted in the Ports of Indiana now ranking as the No. 1 inland port district in the United States by waterborne freight and No. 2 on the Great Lakes. Peacock said port district officials began working with the Corps of Engineers and others in 2021 to change the port district boundaries in order to capture all waterborne freight shipments throughout the state.

While the state had always been in the top 12 nationwide for waterborne shipments, it had never ranked in the top 45 because of gaps that used to exist between port district boundaries, he said.

“Certainly we’re growing Indiana’s maritime economy as best we can, but now we’re being recognized for doing that,” he said.
In his first business update to the commission on the Mount Vernon terminal, May said the port is reviewing business inquiries for six new potential projects.

Additionally, he said, the port has completed a multi-year $2.5 million upgrade to its crane terminal, including a new barge winch. The port is launching its 2023 capital improvement plan, which will include a truck scale, rail upgrades, roadway paving and riverbank clearing. Tonnage at the port is up 24 percent year-to-date over 2022, May said. The increase was driven by coal, ethanol, DDGs and mineral shipments, he said.

Action items at the meeting included acceptance of the Ports of Indiana’s 2022 audit report, which accountant Kevin Kerswick of Crowe LLC said was clean with “no material issues.”

The port board also approved the ratification of an emergency declaration for tie rod repair at the Burns Harbor facility, costing $206,770, and for the ratification of the Cargill lease termination agreement after hearing from Burns Harbor port director Ryan McCoy.

Travis Kohl, director of project delivery for Ports of Indiana, also noted that the port has applied for both a Port Infrastructure Development Project (PIDP) grant that would include a new railyard, truck scale and security features and a Marine Highway grant that would allow the purchase of a new heavy-lift crane that could lift wider project cargoes. Both proposals arefor the Mount Vernon port. Kohl said the federal government has not said when those grants will be awarded, but judging by last year’s process, the announcement could come within the next few weeks.