The Heart of Illinois Regional Port District was created in 2003 by an act of the Illinois legislature and was established as an independent political subdivision of the state, enjoying the status of a municipal corporation. The District encompasses the counties of Marshall, Woodford, Peoria, Tazewell, Fulton and Mason, with governance over approximately 95 miles of the navigable Illinois River. We market our capabilities and undertake public outreach under the brand identity TransPORT.
The Board of Commissioners of the Port District includes three gubernatorial appointees plus a designated representative from each of the six counties. All board members are uncompensated for their services and are currently serving initial terms expiring in 2009 and 2010. The counties help to fund TransPORT with direct dollars on a pro rata basis premised on population: the remainder of the District’s initial funding is rooted in several grants from the state of Illinois and the private sector.
TransPORT is empowered via its enabling legislation with the administration of the Illinois River waterway and the promotion of commercial transportation activity and navigation. We have the authority to issue permits for construction of wharves and maritime related structures; to remove navigational obstructions; and to acquire, build, lease and operate maritime terminals. We are also tasked with fostering, stimulating and promoting the shipment of cargoes via terminals and facilities within our jurisdiction, as well as functioning as an economic development organization oriented toward transportation, logistics and distribution-related businesses. In addition to our involvement with barge transportation on the Illinois River system, we work with the other transportation modes (rail and motor carrier) as well, and a large proportion of our efforts have involved potential projects not situated on the waterway. As the Port District grows, we will measure our success in large part by the number of new, incremental businesses that set up operations within the transportation sector of our region, and by the number of jobs created by those efforts. A third litmus test will be growth in the quantity and value of cargoes moving in and out of the area.
Clearly one of the most promising growth sectors in the central Illinois economy is the renewable fuels business, with ethanol and biodiesel ventures leading the pack. TransPORT is working with the Economic Development Council for Central Illinois on an aggregate of $600 million in potential investment in this industry alone, although not all potential ventures will reach fruition due to inadequate business planning or insufficient capitalization. For those projects situated on the Illinois River, the Port District can utilize revenue bond financing to construct intermodal terminal facilities for moving raw materials and finished products to anchor renewable fuel sites and surrounding industrial parks.
One of TransPORT’s most exciting projects involves the current acquisition and adaptive re-use of the long vacated Caterpillar foundry at Mapleton. This property, which includes a 1,100,000 square foot building large enough to hold six Super Wal-Mart footprints, is currently being prepared for occupancy by a variety of industrial and distribution oriented tenants, with proximity to the Illinois River and direct rail service. The jobs and economic activity created at this site should spell a “win” for the region.
One of the early rationales for the creation of a Port District was that transportation and distribution have always been a trade which this region has executed very effectively over many years. The 35+ terminals operational today on the river alone are strong testament to that, as are the 13 million tons of product moving by water to and from those facilities. With the leadership of a dedicated Port Commission and the involvement of an energized business community and citizenry, we’d like to think that the best is yet to come. IBI