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County goes full steam ahead on Port Authority

The St. Charles County Council, at its meeting on March 29, approved a payment of $99,480 to PGAV Planners, LLC for consulting services related to a strategic planning process for the county’s revived Port Authority.

Later in the meeting, the council also agreed to consider an intergovernmental agreement between the county, and the port authority. That bill (No. 4943) was requested by County Executive Steve Ehlmann, and endorsed by council members Joe Brazil (District 2), Terry Hollander (District 5) and chair Mike Elam (District 3). It will be further addressed at the council’s next meeting at 7 p.m. on April 12.

The port authority has been many years in the making. In fact, St. Charles County had a port authority in the past (1973-1998). So, the process of organizing and receiving state sanction for the agency would amount to a “re-establishment” of the authority, and is not, in fact, a new or novel project.

However, questions abound concerning the purpose and the utility of such an entity. Supporters of the idea say it offers the ability to transfer and store cargo cheaply and efficiently and can provide an impetus for economic development and tourism. Supporters also note that there are nearly 20 established port authorities along Missouri waterways, including in St. Louis City, and in St. Louis, Lincoln, and Jefferson counties. Supporters argue that the creation of an official port authority would allow the county to apply for state funding grants and low-interest loans.

Those opposed argue against endowing a quasi-public authority with too much power. Council member Joe Cronin (District 1) was the most skeptical of the council members when the debate on this issue began back in 2017. He argued that such an entity, which would be involved in major economic development issues needed to be made answerable to an elected legislative body, presumably the county council. At the time, Cronin said of the port authority, “Once they get going, we don’t have a lot of power over them. My issue is that we are giving those appointed people the power of eminent domain, the power to create TIFs, and a lot of other powers we have no oversight over.”

Brazil, Hollander and council member Dave Hammond (District 4) echoed Cronin’s skepticism in 2017, although they ultimately came out in favor of the idea.

The creation of a port authority board eventually came to fruition in fall 2019. The board, however, like much of the nation ran headlong into the COVID-19 crisis and efforts related to its establishment were paused.

Jennifer George, the county’s assistant director of administration, has been tabbed as the point of contact between the port authority board and the council. At the March 29 meeting, she described the port authority board as “…trying to define who they are, what their role is and how to help in key projects.” She noted that the board had conducted three meetings and plans to hold meetings at 8 a.m. on the first Thursday of each month. Those meetings are open to the public.

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