Some expert witnesses at a legislative hearing Thursday threw cold water on the need for a second Indiana port on Lake Michigan, but that did not deter local mayors who testified side by side in support of the idea.
“There are people out there who want to invest in good projects,” said East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland. “And we see in regard to these ports it would be a good way to invest in the future.”
East Chicago and Gary each have put forward proposals for new ports on Lake Michigan, but on Thursday both cities' mayors said their proposals were not in competition.
“It's our position a port in East Chicago, a port in Gary, and the current port in Portage are not mutually exclusive,” Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said.
Portage Mayor James Snyder summarized for all three mayors that they don't have all the answers and that's why they want a feasibility study done of how to grow the current port at Burns Harbor along with a look at the need for new ports.
The mayors were testifying before eight Indiana legislators from the Joint Study Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Assessment and Solutions at the headquarters of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission in Portage. The committee is examining legislative proposals contained in bills passed in the General Assembly's last session.
Committee Chairman Ed Soliday said at the end of Thursday's testimony he wants the study committee to recommend a feasibility study be undertaken of possible ports expansion in Northwest Indiana.
But legislators will have to consider other testimony they heard in the morning before making that decision.
In the first testimony delivered to the legislative committee in the morning, Ports of Indiana CEO Rich Cooper moved quickly to dispel the notion the Burns Harbor Port is operating at capacity and cannot handle more shipping.
The ports CEO said there is “enormous” capacity available at the Port of Indiana at Burns Harbor, with the port able to handle three to four times the cargo it does today with no additional investment.
“There is no doubt about it, we won't have to build another port with the dock capacity we have today,” Cooper said. “A little more land would be nice.”
He provided figures showing shipping has dropped substantially on the Great Lakes in the last decade, which has decreased the tonnage handled at Burns Harbor.
Cooper pointed out Burns Harbor's direct competitor is the Port of Chicago, where a new private manager has pledged to deliver up to $500 million in new investment to improve facilities there. That should intensify the competition between the two for market share, Cooper said.
Cooper also read from a letter from Federal Marine, a private operator at Burns Harbor and one of the largest port operators on the Great Lakes.
The company said significant declines in Great Lakes cargo shipments in recent decades means any money spent on feasibility study for a new port would be better spent on improving Burns Harbor.