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Vidalia Port permit awaits signature

VIDALIA — Vidalia officials are awaiting a signature from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete the first phase of the Vidalia Port.

The port currently consists of an access road on Louisiana 131 that extends to the Mississippi River Levee.

Port Director Wyly Gilfoil said a 404 permit, which requires permission for any construction projects that will impact wetland areas, was necessary before the access road was extended over the levee.

“Basically, they have a formula to gauge the impact the project is going to have on the wetlands, and you have to mitigate those areas that you’re going to substantially change,” Gilfoil said. “So we purchased areas in other locations through a mitigation bank to offset that.”

Gilfoil said the permit to continue construction has been forwarded along to be signed by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials.

“We couldn’t advertise or do anything without having that permit,” Gilfoil said. “Once we have that permit signed, we have one more step to get it to the Federal Highway Administration because they were waiting for us to get an environmental study also.

“Once we get the permit to them, then they should release the project for advertisement.”

Concordia Parish Economic and Industrial District Executive Director Heather Malone said she believes the FHWA will allow the permit to be used for their environmental study.

“Once we receive the permit from the Corps, they’ll see if it fits or what else we have to do,” Malone said.

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.

“It’s mainly dirt work, so we’re looking at somewhere around 90 to 120 working days to finish,” Gilfoil said.

The 40-acre port facility is an almost two-decade long project that Mayor Hyram Copeland said he’s glad to see the project moving forward.

“This project has taken many, many years to come to fruition, and we’re just excited about it,” Copeland said. “It’s going to be an extremely beneficial economic development tool for our area.”

The Vidalia Port will be a slack water port, which means the area will be unaffected by currents or rise and fall of the tide. The process creates an unstressed area where barges can pull in to load and unload.

Malone said she hopes to have the port operational by 2014.

“It’s exciting to see it move forward, but there really hasn’t been a point where we’ve been able to say, ‘OK we’re here’ because of all the baby steps,” Malone said. “When we cut that ribbon, I think you’ll be seeing a lot of smiling faces.”

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