Illinois lawmakers hope to 'port' jobs to Massac County

Metropolis, IL – The southernmost counties of Illinois have been the some the hardest hit during the economic recession. The average unemployment rate for counties in the 59th Legislative District hover just over the state's average. All the while, officials have grappled with budgetary hardships and cuts this year. Lawmakers hope a bill they passed last week to create a river port on the Ohio in Massac County will spur job and economic growth there.

The Ohio River divides West Kentucky and Illinois. It snakes by the Shawnee National Forest, passing by Paducah and Metropolis before pouring into the mighty Mississippi near Wickliffe. Paducah-McCracken County takes full advantage of its spot the bend, hosting a multi-billion dollar river industry and port there. They may soon share the waterway with neighboring Massac County, just across the river. With the help of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in the Illinois General Assembly, the new legislation passed the senate last week. State Senator Gary Forby co-sponsored the bill.

Forby - It's going to put people to work. You know that's what the whole United States needs and it's going to be a big boost for Massac County and it's going to be a big boost for my 13 counties.

Forby, a democrat, says the bill garnered bi-partisan support because both parties are prioritizing job creation. He says the port will mainly serve existing and several new coal mines opening up in the area.

Forby - A majority of the coal from the state of Illinois goes to Florida, so it goes right down that river and right down to New Orleans and over to Florida. So, there's supposed to be some more coal mines opening up in my district and we need a good way of getting rid of it... This is a good way.

Forby's right: transporting freight by river is the most cost-effective method, especially over long distances. Just as an illustration, a standard 15-barge tow can carry over 22,000 tons. That's enough to fill 225 railcars or 865 semi-truckloads. Already, over half of all commodities shipped down the Ohio River are coal. That's not all that'll be shipped though.

Forby - We got a lot of farmers here, so you're going to see a lot of grain going down there, a lot of fertilizers come back in and track back up to the districts.

Metropolis is one city in Massac County hoping to benefit from the proposed port. Mayor Billy McDaniel says the port will not only help his city

McDaniel - It will be a port that will take in all of Massac County from Joppa to Brookport.

He says the port may consist of multiple sites along the county's banks. McDaniel points to one area as a possible location somewhere among the 800 or so acres in between Metropolis and Joppa. McDaniel says Massac's share of the Ohio River is perfect for a port with plenty of width and depth for boats to operate. Of course, some infrastructure will have to be developed first.

McDaniel - There could be numerous small projects: a loading facility, an unloading facility, a rail; anywhere along that. It could go all the way to the interstate in the city.

For now, the port process awaits the signature of Governor Pat Quinn. McDaniel is optimistic the bill will become law by the end of the year.

McDaniel - I would not know of any reason why he would not or would not want to.

The bill itself doesn't allocate money to build a facility; rather it authorizes its operation and will appoint a 7-member oversight board. McDaniel expects private industry to play a major role in developing a port there. Early estimates on the number of jobs it will bring to the area hover in between 2 to 400 in the next five years. McDaniel expects development to begin sometime next year.