Paducah-McCracken County Riverport Executive Director Tim Cahill addresses the Port of Paducah Propeller Club on April 10 at Walker Hall Events Center in Paducah, Ky. (Photo by Shelley Byrne)
Ports & Terminals

Paducah Port Update Includes Pending Expansion Funds

Legislation passed by both houses of the Kentucky legislature and awaiting signature by Gov. Andy Beshear would help pay for an expansion of the Paducah-McCracken County Riverport Authority in Paducah, Ky., to a separate site.

At a Port of Paducah Propeller Club meeting on April 10, Paducah-McCracken County Riverport Executive Director Tim Cahill provided an update on riverport operations that included the potential new funding.

Before his address, club President Caleb King reminded club members of upcoming events. The club’s annual golf scramble will be May 17 at Rolling Hills Country Club. On May 18, the club will host its annual Maritime Day remembrance and awards ceremony at Seamen’s Church Institute’s Center for Maritime Education in Paducah. The ceremony pays tribute to merchant mariners who have died during the past year. A breakfast social will begin at 9 a.m. with the awards ceremony to follow at 9:30. The club is presenting its Port Person of the Year award to Gail O’Connell of Tennessee Valley Towing and its Maritime Person of the Year to Deb Calhoun of Waterways Council Inc.

House Bill 1

Item 224 in the 31-page House Bill 1 calls for $3.5 million from the Budget Reserve Trust Fund account to be distributed to the Paducah-McCracken County Riverport Authority to support the Riverport West project.

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The bill has been passed by both the Kentucky House of Representatives and Kentucky Senate and was sent to the governor on March 28. It is awaiting his signature.

The project at Ohio River Mile 944 is the same site for which the Greater Paducah Economic Development Corporation had requested a RAISE grant in 2023, but the project was ultimately not chosen for that funding. It is part of a larger development called the Ohio River Triple Rail Site that GPEDC has been trying to market for the past few years.

Through its industrial development authority, GPEDC 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.

Plans call for a three-berth site with a general cargo laydown area, Cahill told club members. One berth would, by law, be accessible as part of the public riverport. The other berths would likely be made available to any company interested in multimodal activity as part of the larger development.

The funding in the bill would allow for design of the port project to the 90 percent level, Cahill said.

“This is a true game-changing mega intermodal facility that would serve the entire region,” he said.

He anticipated that it would cost $25 million, along with investment in additional equipment, to build the port out in phases.

While bulk materials would continue to be moved at the existing port downtown, Cahill said that the new Riverport West would greatly enhance general cargo opportunities.

House Bill 1 also would provide $7.5 million for construction and maintenance at public riverports in Kentucky in each of the upcoming two fiscal years (total of $15 million) with $1.5 million in total to each existing public riverport, split into $750,000 payments in the 2024-25 fiscal year and the 2025-26 fiscal year. Any remaining funds would be distributed at the Transportation Cabinet secretary’s discretion to both existing and developing public riverports within the state.

Another $15 million would go to the Industrial Access and Safety Improvement Pilot Project. As part of this project, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet would coordinate with and make grants to class I, II and III railroads as well as to any railroad authority, port authority or industrial and economic board or authority board to expand rail access, enhance the marketability of available industrial sites, increase job creation and capital investment and increase safety.

Finally, the bill also earmarks $1.3 million in 2024-25 fiscal year funds to the Owensboro Riverport Authority to support construction of the Owensboro Riverport waterline loop.

Cahill said port officials are hopeful that Beshear’s office could sign the legislation soon. If he does so, Memorandums of Understanding to accept the funding would have to be in place before June 30.

Existing Port Projects

Cahill also provided an update on the $3.32 million Port Infrastructure Development Program (PIDP) grant the riverport received to revitalize its bulk commodity yard. MarAd announced the grant in December 2021, but it was finalized last year, with notice to proceed granted on August 28.

The PIDP grant project, supported in part by matching funds from existing customers, including Pine Bluff Sand & Gravel, Pine Bluff Materials, Southern FS and Superior Graphite, allows a major upgrade to the yard, modernizing it to increase its handling capacity, safety and environmental impact. A fixed conveyor system for the port’s sand storage area will be replaced with three 30- by150-foot stackers and a short conveyor and hopper. Three new 30-inch –by 100-foot ground conveyors will allow the port to reach new storage areas as well as expand existing storage on the property. The PIDP grant also funds the purchase of material-handling equipment along with repairs to damaged storage domes, allowing additional commodity storage.

The bulk yard serves 31 counties in four states.

Cahill said the port is moving forward with implementing the grant as quickly as possible.

Additionally, the port announced in October that it received a $418,000 Delta Regional Authority grant to renovate and repurpose a warehouse. The 1977 warehouse is being transformed to house supersacks of materials used in the metals and automotive industries.

Cahill said he expects that grant to close out by August or September and that companies are showing great interest in using the space.

“We already have two customers ready to sign on the dotted line today, except I’m not ready to guarantee August 1 yet,” he said.

Revenue Up

Cahill said revenue at the riverport is up 16 percent year over year, although the cost of maintaining the port’s aging equipment is also high, with more than $100,000 spent so far this year on equipment that will be replaced by new equipment as part of the PIDP grant.

The port has had to turn away business, he said, adding, “We just don’t have any space.”

He is hopeful that the Riverport West project advances because it would help to remedy that issue, he said.

The riverport employs eight people in a full-time capacity with others on a temporary basis as needed, Cahill said. However, a statewide survey showed that, mainly because of the port’s customers, it directly accounts for 640 jobs.

Since Cahill took over the port in June 2020, he said the port board has welcomed three new employees and has instituted a cross-training program.

The port also welcomed its first new general cargo customer in years, PRCO America, which transports supersacks of raw materials used in making refractory bricks for steel furnaces. The shipments are brought from China to New Orleans in a bulk cargo vessel, then transferred to a barge and brought up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. The port stores the bags and then trucks them for just-in-time delivery to PRCO’s manufacturing plant near Mayfield, Ky. PRCO has become the primary customer for the port’s general cargo berth, which had previously been underutilized, Cahill said.

“We have barges arrive regularly,” Cahill noted, adding that PRCO just added a third shift at its manufacturing facility because of increased business.

Cahill also introduced board members to the club, including new port chairwoman Ines Rivas-Hutchins, who also serves as president of INTEC Group, a general contractor specializing in construction services for the federal government.

“The turnaround has been a team effort,” Cahill said, then noting the pending and ongoing projects said, “We’re still not totally there yet.”

Caption for photo: Paducah-McCracken County Riverport Executive Director Tim Cahill addresses the Port of Paducah Propeller Club on April 10 at Walker Hall Events Center in Paducah, Ky. (Photo by Shelley Byrne)