Ports & Terminals

West Kentucky Port Board Seeks Potential Investors, Developers, Operators

The West Kentucky Regional Riverport Authority is looking for an investor, developer or operator that could help turn its board’s vision of a riverport near the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers into reality.

The board has issued a formal Request for Information (RFI), due on March 29, for anyone who would be interested in filling any of those roles.

The purpose is “to solicit feedback and creative ideas from innovative and capable teams on how to best develop an inland riverport located at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers in West Kentucky” as a public-private partnership, according to the RFI.

It also notes that a 2021 economic feasibility study determined that the project would be financially viable and “generate positive net revenues due to the strong demand for a riverport in the area.”

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The port authority has a public-private partnership agreement on 69 acres of land at Lower Mississippi Mile 950.2, with roughly 2,000 feet of riverfront and two mooring cells owned by the adjacent Phoenix Paper mill. The site is just upstream from where Mayfield Creek flows into the Mississippi.

A formal lease agreement with Phoenix Paper will be sought once plans are further developed.

“At this point, since we have not been able to secure a federal grant, we’re looking to private industry to help get this port up and going,” said David Rambo, chairman of the port authority board. “We’re looking at people in the industry who have experience running ports and designing ports.”

The port board did not receive a previously requested federal Port Infrastructure Development Program (PIDP) grant but was awarded a $300,000 Kentucky Product Development Initiative grant last year to allow continued site development, including engineering and planning, design and legal fees, Rambo said.

The city of Wickliffe was also awarded grant funds to expand water service to the site.

Rambo said federal grants are also not off the table. The board recently met with federal representatives for a debriefing, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the previous federal grant proposal so that it could be resubmitted, incorporating suggested changes, to be considered in a future round of grant applications.

Contact with the river industry is important in the early stages of planning the port so that it can be designed to best serve the industry, Rambo said.

“We’ve gotten some initial feedback of people who do have some interest, so we think initially that it’s going pretty well,” he said.

Once the port authority has heard from all of those who have responded to the Request For Information, Rambo said the board expects to schedule private meetings to hear the companies’ ideas.

“We’ve got folks who might just have some interest doing fleeting on the water-side and some folks who are interested just on the land-side,” he said. “Everything is on the table.”

One of the first priorities will be determining the layout for an access road on U.S. 51/62 separate from the paper mill, which can have up to 300 trucks a day entering and exiting it, Rambo said. The paper mill also wants to ensure that any construction on the property does not negatively impact water intake or existing facilities before signing a lease agreement.

The port authority has also been working with historic preservation officials to make sure that any initial development entirely avoids 15 acres determined to be the former site of Fort Jefferson. Fort Jefferson was an American Revolutionary War fort that was built beginning in April 1780 and abandoned in June 1781. Gen. George Rogers Clark used it as a base of operation for his Illinois campaign and took soldiers from the fort to defend St. Louis and Cahokia from British attacks, according to information provided from Dr. Ken Carstens, Murray State University professor emeritus.

Ballard County Judge Executive Todd Cooper said he thinks the RFI will be a valuable tool in marketing the potential port site.

“The authority is basically trying to connect dots between private partners,” he said. “We thought that we could put out a Request For Information to see if there are companies out there that are not aware of this project to shed light on it and try to move it forward.”

Cooper said that in addition to releasing the RFI publicly, the port authority has also sent it to about 20 different firms in the maritime industry and others in the agriculture industry.

“We’re just trying to put all those pieces together to create more opportunity,” he said.

For more information on the RFI, visit https://wkrra.com. Proposals must be submitted by 4 p.m. Central Time March 29 to WKRRA, 297 Kentucky Ave., Kevil, KY 42053. Additional information is available by contacting Tracy Hobbs at 270-462-2394 or at tracy@discoverballardcounty.com.