by Mitchell Kirk
Logansport City Council recently approved an ordinance authorizing the creation a port authority, a move local officials say would create economic development by allowing railroads to come under city control.
Mayor Ted Franklin said by giving the city more control of the railroads, a port authority would make it easier for businesses to use rail and could eventually establish a free-trade zone in the area.
“The entire goal of this whole thing is to better position businesses in Logansport that could potentially use rail,” Franklin said.
Franklin referred to the former Toledo Peoria & Western Railway, now owned by Genesee & Wyoming Inc., that goes through the city. He said access and fees would be much more agreeable to businesses using the railway if it was maintained by a port authority.
“Other railroads can get on it and they can pull their cars across it but it has very limited access and is very expensive to get across,” Franklin said. “A port authority would ease that greatly.”
Franklin also said having authority over the Logansport & Eel River Railroad would improve rail access as well, as it ties into the Winamac and Southern Railway and the Norfolk and Southern Railway, which has lines traversing the Midwest and the Eastern Seaboard.
Councilman Bob Bishop said one of the concerns brought up by some of his constituents was the amount of power the port authority would have.
Indiana law states a port authority has the right to exercise eminent domain to appropriate land and other properties to use as it sees fit.
“I don’t believe that’s our goal,” Bishop said. “I don’t see how we would ever use that, but they do have a lot of authority... It’s not like we’re on Lake Michigan and there’s going to be a huge amount of money and power. Maybe at some point over the decade it might become more, but right now it’s just economic development for railroads and water and transportation.”
Franklin said a port authority would allow opportunities for grant funding as well.
“If we establish a port authority, that becomes a tool that allows us to qualify for federal transportation dollars,” Franklin said, adding the money could go toward rail improvement projects.
“For maintenance of roads, we receive an 80-20 match,” Franklin said. “Because railroads are a mode of transportation, it qualifies us to then be eligible to receive an 80-20 match for railroad improvements.”
The next step the city will have to take is assembling a five-person board to head the port authority. According to the state statute, board members are appointed by the mayor and approved by city council.
Franklin said he has already spoken with a few potential board members to gauge their interest.
Mitchell Kirk is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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