Port of Hickman - river silting closed for a time last summer. Photo courtesy of Hickman Courier
(Hickman KY, February 14, 2012) - Back on September 29 several congressional leaders including Congressman Ed Whitfield and Senator Rand Paul met in Hickman to discuss the need to dredge the Elvis Stahr Harbor. The still-water harbor, which hasn’t been dredged since 2009, has been slowly filling up with silt adversely affecting river traffic when the river level drops.
On Friday, Feb. 10 Lawrence Thomas from the Army Corps of Engineers Memphis District contacted Greg Curlin Hickman-Fulton County Riverport Authority Director informing him that plans were in the works to dredge the harbor in Hickman this summer, sometime after July 1.
“We are excited to receive this news,” stated Curlin Monday. “We appreciate the work the Corps of Engineers has put into making this happen for us.”
“We are also grateful to Congressman Whitfield and Senator Paul for all their hard work and efforts aiding us with making the dredging a reality. We know they are also working on the continuing effort to find yearly funding for the continued maintenance of the harbor. Congressman Whitfield and Senator Paul have been working on correcting tonnage numbers reported to the Corps and possibly changing the way these numbers affect dredging funds in the future.”
“We have been working for some months now with the Hickman-Fulton County Riverport Authority and the Corps of Engineers to identify funds that can support the necessary dredging of the Elvis Stahr Harbor, in order that the harbor can stay open and support normal business operations in the coming summer months,” stated Congressman Whitfield in a press release on Friday. “I am pleased to have received confirmation on Friday, Feb. 10, from the Corps that some of the money made available from disaster relief legislation passed in December will be used to dredge the harbor. The money was designated for harbor repairs that are required as a result of flooding in early 2011, which caused several harbors to receive heavy deposits of silt and threatened the continued operation of the Hickman port. $1.9 million will be available for the work at the Elvis Stahr Harbor.”
“Since last year, I have adamantly pushed for measures that would benefit smaller harbors facing shut-downs, including the Harbor Equity Act I introduced in the Senate. I am proud the Army Corps of Engineers will allocate funding that will keep open the Hickman Riverport in Western Kentucky. This welcoming news will have a positive economic impact on the farmers, towing companies, and community served by the port,” Senator Paul added. Representative Steven Rudy, who was also in Hickman during the talks on the dredging issue in October commented on the dredging funds. “The harbor is such a key part of the local economy, I am thankful that the funds for dredging have become available. I pledge to continue to work with other leaders in Frankfort and Washington to find a dedicated funding source to address the annual dredging of the harbor,” he said.
A shut down of the harbor occurred briefly in October 2011 as river levels dropped into the lower teens potentially affecting the local businesses and surrounding businesses who depend on the harbor to operate.
Typically, river levels in the spring and winter months are not a concern for the continued operation of the Port. “We start to worry in August, September and October,” stated Curlin. “That’s when the river levels historically are at their lowest, which threatened to shut us down last year.”
Approximately 10 businesses in the immediate area, and many farmers are adversely affected when dredging is not performed in the harbor on a regular basis. It is estimated that these businesses employee between 250 and 300 employees. Hundreds of indirect jobs through the agricultural community and trucking industry depend on the functionality and accessibility of the harbor.
One of those businesses affected when the harbor isn’t operational is Cargill, located in west Hickman. “This is great news for Cargill and our customers,” stated Will Rice, Plant Manager of Cargill. “Dredging the harbor is critical for us to continue normal operations during periods of low water.”
“Two of the most important issues concerning economic impact along the Mississippi river are rail improvement and dredging,” stated Fulton County Judge/Executive David Gallagher. “The dredging issue has been resolved and we will address the rail improvement through acquiring a Tiger IV grant.”
“We will be able to operate using the whole harbor and will be able to maintain our barges in slack water instead of having to maintain them in the river where the current and the traffic is always a problem,” added Terry Roncali of Wepfer Marine. Last October he had to move his barges out of the harbor when the river level was projected to reach below 15 feet. “We won’t have to worry with the same problem of having to shut barge traffic down in the harbor as we did this past year. This is just great news for Hickman and each facility that depends on this harbor. I personally thank each one that has worked so hard to make this happen. Especially Amy Williamson and Greg Curlin at HFCRA.”
The last time the harbor was dredged was in 2009 when the harbor was completely dredged including the turning basin using $2.9 million dollars in funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Stimulus Program.