Port of Vidalia a step closer to reality

Published 12:01 am Thursday, January 24, 2008

VIDALIA — Local officials, business leaders and representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers met at a luncheon Wednesday to discuss making the port of Vidalia a reality.

The city has already received a $1 million grant for the port from the Economic Development Administration, but the original location of the proposed site had to be moved due to Corp concerns about a nearby dike, Mayor Hyram Copeland said.

“Once we can work out those issues we will hopefully be able to start moving forward,” Copeland said.

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The current proposed location is near the new Vidalia Industrial Park, south of town along Louisiana 131 between Whitehall and Scotland Plantations.

The area needs a port for agricultural reasons because producers need to limit how far they have to transport goods before they can be shipped, Delta Bank President Cliff Merritt said.

“When a farmer has to carry that crop any further than he needs to carry it, it begins to add an increased transport expense,” Merritt said.

Former Sec. of State Al Ater, who now works as a full-time farmer, said farmers would be able contract with companies and transport their crops to the port themselves, saving money by eliminating middle men.

“There is only one thing limiting us from doing that right now, and it’s that we don’t have a port,” he said.

Vidalia has been identified by experts as an area ripe for both industrial and agricultural growth, Ater said, but because it does not have a port, it is unable to compete with river cities within a 50-100 mile radius.

“This area is at a competitive disadvantage,” he said.

The port would also be good for industry because it would allow an increased inflow of materials and would allow them to export internationally, Louisiana Elastomer President D. Michael “Mike” Wells said.

“We shipped products to China and Mexico,” he said. “All of those could have been done cheaper using water transport.”

Sheriff Randy Maxwell said he believes a port will help lower crime rates because it will bring in jobs.

“Jobs relate to quality of life, and quality of life relates to crime,” he said.

Utilizing the river is the only hope for the area, Maxwell said.

“We don’t have a major interstate system or a rail system, we have the river,” he said. “If we don’t have the river we shrivel up and die. I have children and grandchildren, and I want them to stay here.”

U.S. Corp of Engineers Vicksburg District Commander Col. Mike Wehr said after Wednesday’s meeting he had no doubt something would happen with the port, though he was not sure when.

“I will certainly have my attention on this after seeing the story unfold today,” he said.