Ports & Terminals

Hickman-Fulton County Riverport Awarded State Funding

A $500,000 state grant will allow a Kentucky public port to accept a federal Port Infrastructure Development Program (PIDP) grant and help ensure its continued operability for decades to come.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced the funding to the Hickman-Fulton County Riverport Authority on April 25 as part of the Kentucky Product Development Initiative grant funding.

“As we look to build on our state’s record economic momentum of the past four years, it is crucial that we prepare today for the investment and job opportunities of the future,” Beshear said in announcing the grant recipients. “The support that the KPDI program provides for Kentucky communities ensures they have the resources necessary to accommodate growing industry across all our key growth sectors.

The state grant provides the remainder of the local monetary match required for the port to accept the nearly $3.3 million PIDP grant it received November 3 to replace a conveyor system and to rehabilitate a mooring cell. The project is estimated to cost more than $4.1 million.

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The riverport, located at Lower Mississippi Mile 922, is Kentucky’s only public riverport on the Mississippi River. It became active in 1978. The grant will allow the port to replace and upgrade a 1,200-foot conveyor system that dates to 1977.

Hickman-Fulton County Riverport Executive Director Greg Curlin said the riverport authority also received $323,970 in funding through the state’s new Government Resources Accelerating Needed Transformation (GRANT) Program, created as part of House Bill 9, which passed in June of last year.

With the local match money secured, the riverport has accepted the PIDP grant and hopes to have notice to proceed within the next few weeks. The riverport will then get to work on necessary environmental and archeological studies and applying for the appropriate Corps of Engineers permits. The port office has already received some phone calls from contractors with potential interest in bidding on the project, Curlin said.

“We hope to be finished with everything by the end of this year and starting construction next spring,” he said.

Curlin said the port hopes to remain open during construction of the new conveyor system, if possible, or to close for only a short period timed to avoid the bulk of the harvest season.

He noted that the conveyor replacement helps farmers in both Kentucky and Tennessee who rely on the port, which is especially important since nearby Mayfield Grain had its grain silos destroyed in a December 2021 tornado.

“It helps the whole system because we are so limited with our small belt with how much we can get out,” Curlin said.

Because the new conveyor will move more grain through the system faster, lines of waiting trucks at the port should be shorter during harvest season, Curlin said. That will add convenience and have environmental benefits. The system will also be more reliable and less prone to breakdowns, easing budgetary pressure.

The conveyor will be upgraded from a 30-inch-wide belt system to a 48-inch system to meet rising demand and ensure reliability.

The current conveyor system handles 12,000 bushels of grain per hour. The new system is to be designed to increase the grain loading capacity to 20,000 bushels of grain per hour.

The grant also allows high-priority repairs to the attached 20-foot mooring cell that supports the conveyor system. Mooring Cell 6 is described in the grant application as suffering from “severe corrosion and settlement.” The PIDP grant also allows for construction of foundations for the conveyor, electrical infrastructure and control mechanisms. Additionally, it includes environmental, engineering, construction administration, testing and inspection and procurement services.

Additional Grant Funding

Curlin noted that House Bill 1, which passed Kentucky’s legislature and was signed into law in April, provides significant additional funding for Kentucky’s public ports.

The law provided $1.5 million for each of the state’s public riverports, plus specific money earmarked for certain other transportation-related projects, including some at ports. The funding is a major increase from the $500,000 typically set aside by the legislature to be divided among the state’s seven existing and three developing riverports through the Kentucky Riverport Improvement Grant Program, Curlin said. That program is also limited to providing money for infrastructure improvements and equipment upgrades.

Curlin said the new funding is a direct result of findings in a statewide study that focused on the economic impact of the state’s public ports. The Kentucky Riverports, Highway and Rail Freight Study took place from 2019 to 2021 and included a close look at each riverport’s needs and capabilities as well as how they could be used as a driver for local economic development.

“We’re hoping that it’s going to do a lot of things for us,” Curlin said of the new program.

In particular, the Hickman-Fulton County Riverport plans to use its $1.5 million to upgrade and repair seven mooring cells put in at its general-purpose dock more than 40 years ago. The funding will also help with ongoing dock maintenance.