EDITORIAL: State agency should anchor ports plan

2013-09-08T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: State agency should anchor ports plan nwitimes.com
September 08, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The Ports of Indiana Commission is pumping $1.7 million into its Portage facility to improve the rail and sewer infrastructure. That's important work to keep the deepwater facility viable.

Indiana's signature port is one of the busiest on the Great Lakes. There's still acreage available for new facilities at the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor in Portage, but it's filling up.

If officials in Gary and East Chicago get their way, it could have new competition within Indiana. Or maybe the ports would complement each other.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson has proposed putting a deepwater port at Buffington Harbor, where Majestic Star Casino now stands. That would depend on a number of moving parts, one of which would be moving the casino to another location within the city.

East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland wants a new $400 million port on a peninsula used by ArcelorMittal.

"It would create jobs, respectable, good-paying jobs," Copeland said. "It gives us an opportunity to work with residents and industry and, bar none, this would be economic development at its highest."

East Chicago is seeking funding from the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority for a feasibility study for the port.

A legislative study committee is holding a hearing Thursday to study the Gary and East Chicago proposals.

The Ports of Indiana's support is crucial to the development of an additional lakefront port. The agency operates ports on the Ohio River as well as the site in Portage, and it makes sense for the agency to develop and operate any additional major ports as well.

That puts the agency in a good position to carefully study the feasibility of a new port on Lake Michigan. It understands the two major inland waterways -- the St. Lawrence Seaway and the competing Mississippi River system.

Now that there are two proposals for new Lake Michigan ports on the table, the Ports of Indiana Commission should study the alternatives and issue a recommendation based on logistical considerations as well as the economic impact on the host city. Include consideration of shipping trends on both the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River.

The legislative study committee's hearing Thursday is a key piece in the puzzle for any new port, but the onus should be on the state agency to say whether either port should be built and whether the agency is willing to take the lead on either proposed project.

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