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St. Charles County may look at re-establishing port authority

missouri riverSt. Charles County officials are expected to look at re-establishing a port authority, particularly along the Missouri River, to provide a barge loading and offloading facility, storage space, and rail and highway connections for moving freight as well as to provide tourism opportunities.

The St. Charles County Council agreed to include funding for a port authority study in the county’s 2016 budget, which the council approved on Dec. 21. But the details of that study, along with its scope, are still being worked out.

Councilmember Mike Elam [District 3] said at the council’s Jan. 11 meeting that the money would be used to review the feasibility of a port. Elam said the county is at the ground floor of its discussions and may seek a request for qualifications from firms that might conduct the study.

“It turns out we have more river frontage than any other county in the state of Missouri,” Elam told the council at their Dec. 21 meeting. “We also are the largest county in the state of Missouri that doesn’t have a port authority.”

Elam said a port authority could offer a number of economic development opportunities for St. Charles County and the surrounding region.

A port authority also may offer tourism possibilities. Councilman Joe Brazil [District 2] has been interested in examining the feasibility of a ferry across the river that could generate tourism dollars.

Brazil said establishing an authority might make the county eligible for federal funding for economic development and other projects up to a mile away from the river. An authority also may allow the county more control over its river banks, limiting federal mandates, he said.

There are 15 established port authorities along waterways in Missouri, including authorities in the city of St. Louis and in St. Louis, Lincoln and Jefferson counties. Ports offer the ability to transfer and store cargo inexpensively and can provide land for economic development.

Elam said the county port authority’s directors would be appointed by the county executive.

At one point, the county actually had a port authority, established in 1973, but it was abandoned in 1998.

County Commissioner Joe Cronin [District 1] asked Don Boehmer, the county’s assistant director of administration, about earlier efforts to establish a county port authority.

Boehmer was a member of a then St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association committee studying the port question in the 1990s. RCGA is now the St. Louis Regional Chamber.

“It wasn’t feasible then, but that was a long time ago and you ought to look at it again,” Boehmer said.

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