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Sunday Focus: Port has received $4.4 million in grants since 2005

A crane moves rock into the rear of a truck at the Natchez-Adams County Port. In 2003, the rails at the port were covered in grass, now with the greater traffic the rails are cleared.  The port has received approximately $4.4 million in multi-modal port capital improvement grants from Mississippi taxpayers since 2005.  (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

A crane moves rock into the rear of a truck at the Natchez-Adams County Port. In 2003, the rails at the port were covered in grass, now with the greater traffic the rails are cleared. The port has received approximately $4.4 million in multi-modal port capital improvement grants from Mississippi taxpayers since 2005. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — Since 2005, the Natchez-Adams County Port has received approximately $4.4 million in multi-modal port capital improvement grants from Mississippi taxpayers.

The pipeline extending for the Natchez-Adams County Port’s liquid loading dock was reworked from funds the port received in 2011 and 2012. The port has received approximately $4.4 million in multi-modal port capital improvement grants from Mississippi taxpayers since 2005.  (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

The pipeline extending for the Natchez-Adams County Port’s liquid loading dock was reworked from funds the port received in 2011 and 2012. The port has received approximately $4.4 million in multi-modal port capital improvement grants from Mississippi taxpayers since 2005. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

Port and county officials say those grants — ranging from a low of $155,000 in 2007 to a high of $954,000 for 2015 — have helped the port position itself to grow business and remain competitive when the port at one time had almost no business.

“I am quite sure without the assistance of (the Mississippi Department of Transportation), a lot of the things we are doing now would not have been done, a lot of the equipment and facilities that we have would not have not been available to us if this assistance had not been provided,” Port Commission President Wilbur Johnson said.

The multi-modal grants have been administered by MDOT since 2005, and are intended for capital improvements or the rehabilitation of basic infrastructure outside of routine maintenance. The grants are also for projects outside the normal operating budget of the port.

The Natchez port as received such grants every year since the program began, including:

-$520,000 in 2005 to permanently place four pre-cast concrete railroad crossings into the port

-$200,000 in 2006 for the purchase of a mobile rail car mover

The Natchez-Adams County Port purchased a second mobile rail car mover in 2014. The port has received approximately $4.4 million in multi-modal port capital improvement grants from Mississippi taxpayers since 2005.  (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

The Natchez-Adams County Port purchased a second mobile rail car mover in 2014. The port has received approximately $4.4 million in multi-modal port capital improvement grants from Mississippi taxpayers since 2005. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

-$155,000 in 2007 to rehabilitate two aging cranes on the port’s southern dock

-$500,000 in 2008 and $400,200 in 2009, which were combined to fund the purchase of a larger crane and to relocate power lines.

-$405,000 in 2010 to remove and replace pilings to allow barges to dock

-$600,000 in 2011 and $475,000 in 2012 to rework a 12-inch pipeline on the existing liquid loading dock and install insulation and heat tracing on it

-$305,000 in 2013 to purchase a new front-end loader and mobile conveyer

-$375,000 in 2014 to purchase a second mobile rail car mover

The grant to be administered in 2015 will be for $954,000, and will be used to replace the roof on the east wing roof on the former Riverside Central Services warehouse, which the county purchased in 2013 with a $2 million bond.

The funds will also be used to replace one of the port’s sets of truck scales, Port Director Anthony Hauer said.

A crane moves a compact tractor onto a barge to assist in transporting rock to trucks at the Natchez-Adams County Port. In 2007, the port used funds to rehabilitate the two aging cranes on the south dock. The port has received approximately $4.4 million in multi-modal port capital improvement grants from Mississippi taxpayers since 2005.  (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

A crane moves a compact tractor onto a barge to assist in transporting rock to trucks at the Natchez-Adams County Port. In 2007, the port used funds to rehabilitate the two aging cranes on the south dock. The port has received approximately $4.4 million in multi-modal port capital improvement grants from Mississippi taxpayers since 2005. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

Hauer has a picture of himself taken shortly after he started working as director at the port in 2003. In the background, grass can be seen growing along the rail tracks.

Now, the rails stay clear of growth as the port operates its rail lines, moving products back and forth from barges parked at the dock, the cranes financed by the grants loading receiving cars.

“This (multi-modal) funding has moved us into a more appreciated position,” Hauer said. “In 2003, we had only one client, and we are now experiencing the other side of 28 clients. The port has the ability to move what our clients need.”

Last year, the port moved 1.5 million tons of cargo and a yearly average of 420,000 tons of liquid. Its clients include the steel and petroleum industry, agriculture interests and mineral brokers, among others.

Having two rail car switchers has put the port in a position to initiate “real rail car movement” within the port itself, Hauer said.

In addition to two switch cars, the port has seven rail cars long-term leased.

The Natchez Railway line from Brookhaven to Natchez runs up to but does not enter the port.

“A lot of material is brought in and shipped out by rail, so we have to be able to move those cars into certain areas whereby we can load and unload them and move them back to the tracks that are operated by the railroad company,” Johnson said.

One proposal for long-term development of the port area includes the construction of a loop track around the former International Paper site by a third party, and Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ said the port operating its own rails would be beneficial when marketing the property.

“If you were paying to move your product from that site, the port would be able to handle it instead of contracting it out to a third party, so that’s one less entity handling that product,” he said.

“With that in mind, managing the cars on the track is probably less expensive. We constantly sell that value to customers and clients on a daily basis.”

Getting the grant to fix the warehouse roof in 2015 will further enhance the county’s ability to develop business in the port, Board of Supervisor’s Vice President Mike Lazarus said.

“The warehouse is a heck of an asset to have out there, and it is full up with different products,” he said.

“We get enough money out there (at the warehouse) to pay for the note on the warehouse and to make up for the lost taxes.”

Lazarus was referring to the loss of property taxes the county incurred as the warehouse was transferred from private, taxpaying owners to public ownership.

The county has an agreement with the port authority in which the port will manage the warehouse and use some of its revenues to generate income for other port development.

Lazarus said he is glad the state funding has been available for the port development.

“The port is one of the brightest spots in the county, it is busier than it has been since its conception and it is going to continue to grow,” he said.

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