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Cairo Port project continues forward after big investment last year

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CAIRO — After last year’s $40 million line item in the state’s capital bill, state Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, said, the train is still moving on the Cairo Port Project.

Fowler stood in Cairo beside Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Aug. 4 to announce the significant state investment. The state immediately gave $4 million in grants for the project, but a total of $40 million was allocated in the capital bill to fund the design and development of a river port that has been in the works for nearly a decade.

The port is slated to be built on 350 acres of land owned by the city and its utility company on the Mississippi River. It would include two high-speed cranes for moving containers between ships and trucks and trains and storage areas.

This $40 million announced last year is about $35 million short of the $75 million that was hoped for, but, as previously reported by The Southern, the rest will be leveraged by private investors. Fowler told The Southern Wednesday that there are multi-billion dollar organizations that have signed non-disclosure agreements until after ground is broken. 

“COVID slowed things down just a little bit,” Fowler said of the progress since last year. However, he said, the work never stopped entirely. Currently developers are working on permitting for the project and continue to develop site plans.

The $4 million released by the state last year was used to finish the final permitting, engineering and even some site preparation for the development. When asked last year how the $40 million announcement was different than the 2018 announcement of $1 million from the state for similar permitting and design costs, Fowler and Pritzker deferred to Todd Ely, a member of the Alexander County Port District who has worked on the project for nearly a decade.

In 2020, Ely said, that the initial $1 million was pivotal to doing engineering work that would eventually convince both state and private business leaders that the project was itself viable. Ely added that the money released would help to finalize the public-private partnerships that will push the project toward the finish line.

There are more announcements to come, and soon, Fowler said. He anticipates holding a press conference next month in Cairo to unveil refined site plans and to announce an agreement with local labor groups.

“It will be built with Southern Illinois labor,” Fowler said. More than that, though, Fowler said, there will be workforce training for local Cairo citizens. The city has been plagued with a declining economy and citizen population. Fowler said providing opportunities for citizens is crucial — it’s not all about outside jobs and investment.

“It’s about creating opportunity for the local folks as well,” Fowler said.

Fowler said those interested in keeping up with the project and potential work opportunities should sign up for updates on the website.

The next phase of the project will come after permitting has been completed, Fowler said.

“Once the permitting is finalized, they hope to be able to get on the site and start clearing so that we can showcase it even better,” he said. Groundbreaking is not likely to happen until next year, Fowler said.

Fowler, since being elected to his seat in 2016, has taken Cairo’s revitalization as a personal project. He has said on more than one occasion that the port will be a shot in the arm not just to the city but for the region. A total of 500 direct jobs will be generated when the project is complete, Fowler and Pritzker said last year.

Fowler repeated Wednesday what he’s said from the beginning. The ideas he and others are bringing to the table are nothing new.

“All we’re doing is continuing to take advantage of the opportunities we already have,” Fowler said.


On Twitter: @ismithreports


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