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Vidalia seeking changes from Legislature on port commission regulations

VIDALIA — The City of Vidalia is seeking legislative approval to change how the Vidalia Port Commission will be run.

House Bill 133 — which cleared the Louisiana House and was sent to the Senate Wednesday  — will add two commissioners to the five-member Vidalia Port Commission and remove a requirement that the commissioners be residents of Vidalia.

Instead, it specifies they must live in Concordia Parish.

Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland said the port commission’s structure modification was necessary to reflect the regional nature of the port project.

“We are going to increase the number of members due to the fact that the port is going to represent all of Concordia Parish,” Copeland said.

The Vidalia Port Commission was created by the legislature in 1981 to operate the Vidalia port, the future site of which is located on Louisiana 131, 2.5 miles south of Vidalia and adjacent to the Vidalia Industrial Park.

The commission was largely inactive until 2010, when it was reactivated in anticipation of starting construction at the port.

Opening the port commission membership to Concordia Parish residents allows for a wider selection of possible members from the area’s largest industry, Concordia Parish Economic and Industrial Development Director Heather Malone said.

“With the port commission already in existence, they didn’t want to take anyone off the commission who was already there,” Malone said. “But one of our largest users will be from the agriculture industry, and trying to pull in agriculture experts, they are in many cases people who would live outside the city limits of Vidalia. (Vidalia) wanted to be able to expand that boundary to help make better decisions for the port as it develops.”

The legislative measure that would add the new members specifies the Vidalia board of aldermen will appoint commission members to four-year terms. The law at present requires commissioners to serve six-year terms.

Port commission members serve without compensation.

A portion of the first phase of the slackwater port’s construction has been completed, and the city has received enough funding from local, state and federal sources to start the second phase.

The first phase includes the extension of an access road, the construction of a spur levee to the Mississippi River, a concrete ramp to the river and a working pad with a truck turnaround area.

The second phase would include — among other additions — digging the slackwater slip and putting in an additional dock.