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December 11, 2012

Port authority mission not yet clear

The reasons behind Mayor Ted Franklin’s proposal to form a port authority remain foggy.

In some ways, it’s surprising that Logansport has gone so many years without a port authority. This community got its start as a river town, then a canal town, before finally developing a reputation as a railroad center.

A port authority would fit that history perfectly, as a body overseeing the city’s two active rail lines and two rivers.

The ordinance Franklin presented to the City Council notes that the state enacted a law in 1959 providing for creation of port authorities “to regulate and provide transportation infrastructure.”

The ordinance establishing the proposed authority covers 11 pages. It provides for a five-member board to be appointed by the mayor, and it gives that board the authority to buy, build, sell, lease and operate transportation facilities within its jurisdiction. Board members would eventually serve four-year terms, but the first set of terms would be staggered, so that no more than two members would see their terms expire in any year.

The ordinance would establish an entity with the ability to acquire, sell or lease real or personal property. The authority could also exercise the right of eminent domain to obtain property and rights of way necessary for the construction and operation of its facilities.

The authority would be empowered to pay for any projects through the issuance of bonds payable over a period of up to 25 years.

The port authority would have jurisdiction to deepen or widen any canal, channel, stream or other waterway. It could also establish dock lines, piers and other facilities necessary to establish pleasure boating.

But Franklin says the authority’s initial focus would be on railroads. He declined to talk specifics.

“There is a reason for moving this forward at this time,” he said last week. “There’s no guarantee. It’s definitely worth looking into.”

One thing Franklin suggested a port authority might tackle is the condition of local railroad crossings, including the one on 18th Street. He said he hoped the authority might be able to pursue grants for such projects.

Franklin made clear, though, that the real purpose of the authority would be economic development.

The ordinance does call for the authority to develop a long-term plan, and it might be that plan that begins to bring the body’s mission into focus.

It’ll be interesting to watch the details unfold.

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