The development of major river port south of Quincy still a long ways off.

Ask the average person in the tri-state area about the Mid-America Port Commission and their definition would likely be that it’s an organization whose sole focus is the development of ports. Such a perception is incorrect, according to port commission member Douglas Aeilts.

“We’re principally an advocacy group, working to promote access to the river and improvements to the river, especially ports on the river,” he said earlier this week in Hannibal.

According to Aeilts, the group is interested in the potential impact President Donald Trump’s proposed $1 trillion infrastructure proposal could have on the Mississippi River.

“President Trump has actually made river transportation a priority of his in the transportation side of his proposals. That’s more directly related to the improvements to the lock-and-dam system which is well overdue. Most all of them in our area are well over their lifetime expectancy and need to be upgraded to 1,200-foot locks,” he said. “We are very supportive of that process to improve transportation and commercial opportunities on the river.”

Replacement of the aging locks and dams will likely occur far sooner than the port commission’s top priority — construction of a major river port just south of Quincy, Ill.

“It could happen, but it’s still a long ways (off). It’s not a sure thing yet,” said Lyndon Bode, presiding commissioner in Marion County.

“I’ve been working on it (getting the river port built near Quincy) for 11 years and they were working on it before my time,” said Aeilts, adding that the proposed port would be capable of handling dry, wet and containerized type cargo.

As one might expect, coming up with the necessary funding to build the port will be a major challenge.

“If and when it gets developed, and there’s no guarantee it’s going to, the vast majority will probably be (paid for with) federal dollars,” said Aeilts. “But the state (in which the port is located) will have to put some local match in. That will be a struggle whichever state it is. Illinois is the one working on that right now.”

Even though the port is planned across the river, Bode believes it would prove beneficial to those who reside west of the Mississippi River.

“I think it would help Marion County,” he said. “We have several businesses and a number of factories here in the county and in Ralls County that ship all over the world. It would be a way possibly to ship out bigger quantities straight down the river, wherever they’re going international-wise. I think it would be a benefit.”

The Mid-America Port Commission is a regional entity that features nine commissioners — three each from Missouri, Illinois and Iowa. The group’s roots date back almost a quarter century.

“We found out after the flood of 1993 that all three states are very dependent on one another,” said Aeilts. “Frequently the river acts as a divider, but it can also be something that connects us all together. We want to work collectively with all three states to promote river transportation and commercial opportunities all up and down the river.”

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