Heartland farmer reacts to $20M grant for SEMO Regional Port Authority

$19M grant for SEMO Regional Port Authority announced by lawmakers

WASHINGTON (KFVS) - The federal government plans to make a big investment at a transportation hub in the Heartland, and a local farmer is excited about the investment.

The Southeast Regional Port Authority was awarded a $19.8 million grant through the Department of Transportation this week.

According to SEMO Port Executive Director Cary Harbison, the funding will go toward the construction of two 12,000 foot long loops of rail road track near the transportation hub.

Harbison says the new infrastructure make it easier to transfer tons of product from rail cars to river barges, and vice versa.

“There are loops available in St. Louis and down by Memphis, but in our general area this would be the only public loop track facility available, such that any customer can come to us,” Harbison said.

Farmer Kevin Fennewald manages a grain bin complex in Scott county.

He says the proposed railway loop at SEMO Port could lower his cost to transport rice and thinks it would in turn boost the local economy which is mainly driven by agriculture industry.

“This is an investment that is going to help the agriculture community here compete on that global stage," Fennewald said. "Because a buyer, they are looking at buying high quality products at the lowest possible price. We get to sell all of our products here, therefore there is more money to flow through the rest of the economy here in Southeast Missouri.”

Harbison, says the loop track will SEMO Port the flexibility to unload unit trains, which can have more than 100 cars of one or two products.

From there he says they could put directly onto a river barge which Harbison says the cheapest way transport goods.

“One barge tow that is 25 barges will hold 45,000 tons," Harbison said. "That is 3.6 units trains, that is 1,800 trucks. That is why it is more economical.”

Harbison tells me the local Port Authority moves up to 1.5 million tons of goods each year with all modes of transportation. He is optimistic they can increase that amount by using the loop track.

“And it might be a one off train. It may develop into a once a month train," Harbison said. "We hope those customers would continue to utilize us but you never know. I mean one train is one train, and it’s one more train than we have right now.”

Harbison said the Port can start using the $20 million federal grant after they complete the agreement process, which takes about a year.

But the transportation authority has already started grading work where the first sections of loop track will be built.

Two Federal lawmakers from Missouri also praised the decision for the US Department of Transportation to allow SEMO Port to be part of the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant program.

“The Semo Port plays a critical role in in our state’s economy, especially when it comes to moving our ag products to market,” said Sen. Blunt. “This project will help ensure the Southeast Missouri Regional Port Authority is able to continue building upon the steady growth they’ve achieved over the years. I appreciate Congressman Smith’s partnership in securing this funding, and look forward to continuing to work with the port authority to make sure they have the support they need.”

“I’ve been happy to fight for and support this project along with Senator Blunt,” said Rep. Smith. “This investment in southeast Missouri will allow our farmers, ranchers, and workers to move more of their products to market more efficiently and boost the local economy. I’ve always believed our area is home to the finest farmers and workers in the world, and I’m excited that more businesses will be attracted to southern Missouri as we continue to bring our infrastructure into the 21st century.”

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