Concordia officials eager to see Vidalia Port open

Published 12:07am Tuesday, March 5, 2013

VIDALIA — Concordia Parish missed out on a record year for agriculture commodities shipped from Louisiana ports in 2012, but officials hope a project almost two decades in the making won’t let that happen again.

Construction will soon resume on the first phase of the 40-acre Vidalia Port facility, which will complete an access road from the port to Louisiana 131. Currently, the access road stretches from Louisiana 131 to the levee. The new construction will continue the road onto the port site and staging area. A turnaround road for trucks or access vehicles will also be added.

Concordia Parish Economic and Industrial Development District Executive Director Heather Malone said the project has accumulated approximately $3.5 million through a variety of grants and funding, including $1 million in priority 2 funding that was included in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s capital construction proposal last year.

While funding for the construction is available, Malone said any work on the port will be based around levels on the Mississippi River.

“The river will play a huge role in when we can start working again,” Malone said. “We’re hoping to start work again in the next construction cycle when the river will be lower, but you just never know.”

The river’s unpredictable levels are even more frustrating, Malone said, because of an agriculture industry prospect that has expressed interest in locating to the Vidalia Industrial Park once the port is available. She declined to name the prospect because of confidentiality agreements.

“That prospect we’re working with is really driving the project at this point, and we’re doing whatever we can to make sure we accommodate them, while also keeping in mind our existing businesses in the area,” Malone said. “I think we’ll be able to push the project along quicker than we had anticipated because of this prospect.”

Though Port Director Wyly Gilfoil didn’t need any more convincing the port would be beneficial to Vidalia and Concordia Parish, data recently released by the Southern United States Trade Association certainly helped. The group reported a record $25 billion worth of agriculture commodities shipped from Louisiana ports in 2012, almost half of the South’s total.

Gilfoil said those numbers are not surprising for a state that also saw record yields in a variety of crops last year including corn, soybeans and milo, among others.

“Those numbers are just a driving force to this project because we’re looking at the Vidalia Port as being an agriculture niche port,” Gilfoil said. “We’re in an area with an agriculture strength, and with Natchez having a good history of being able to handle industrial transports, we’re going to be a great partnership in promoting regional growth.”

Gilfoil said he has been working on completing a port study in order to finish the remainder of the construction for phase one. He estimated construction to begin in August or October, depending on the river levels.

If all goes according to plan, Malone said she hopes to have the port open and operational by 2014.

“It won’t have all the bells and whistles that we hope to have in the future, but it will get us operational and be available for a variety of agriculture industries,” Malone said. “Once we get operational, then we can begin looking at future plans for the port.”