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Ports of Indiana moves forward with plans for downstate port

The Lubie was the Port of Indiana’s first international ship of the year and its arrival in April marked the beginning of the international shipping season. The Ports of Indiana plans to build a fourth port in southern Indiana. Local officials some years ago suggested a new port in Gary or East Chicago, but that talk has not advanced.

The Ports of Indiana is moving forward with a plan to build a fourth port, but it won’t be on Lake Michigan as Gary and East Chicago officials once hoped.

Commercial Development Company Inc. has announced it bought a 725-acre former coal-fired power plant on the Ohio River, and is working with the Indianapolis-based Ports of Indiana to build a fourth port there. The retired Tanners Creek power plant in Lawrenceburg had belonged to Indiana Michigan Power and was decommissioned last year.

It is in the Cincinnati area, about 90 miles from the Port of Indiana-Jeffersonville across from Louisville, Kentucky. The developer plans to do environmental remediation and tear down all the buildings, which would take an estimated 3 to 5 years.

“We have identified the retired Lawrenceburg plant as a potential site for future port development,” Ports of Indiana CEO Rich Cooper said. “It’s too early to say what could be constructed here, but we’re excited to have the exclusive right to further investigate this site.”

East Chicago, Gary and union officials have called for a third port on Lake Michigan because of all the cargo that’s been flowing into the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor, but that does not appear likely to happen anytime soon.

Port officials say the deepwater port in Portage and Burns Harbor has enough capacity to handle the international ships coming in from the St. Lawrence Seaway, and a panel of state lawmakers questioned whether either Gary or East Chicago had the land or infrastructure to support a Lake Michigan port.

The new port would be the third on the Ohio River, where the self-sustaining statewide port authority already operates the Port of Indiana-Mount Vernon and the Port of Indiana-Jeffersonville.

Gov. Mike Pence has backed the fourth port, including in his 2016 State of the State address, when he called on the Ports of Indiana to “vigorously explore the building of a fourth port in the far southeastern part of our state, which could unleash enormous economic investment throughout the southeast region of our state.”

The Ports of Indiana set its all-time freight-handling record in 2015, moving more than 12.2 million tons of cargo surpassing 2014’s record volume by nearly 18 percent. It was the first time annual shipments exceeded 12 million tons in the port authority’s 54-year history.

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.