Riverport awards dock bid, project to be completed by late June

Officials with the Owensboro Riverport Authority have awarded the bid to construct a low-water dock at the facility.

Riverport President Brian Wright said Hartz Contracting of Owensboro has been awarded the bid.

Wright said Hartz bid $1.660 million. The Riverport received four bids for the project.

With the low-water dock, the Riverport will have two docks that can function simultaneously. At times of high water, the high-water dock will be able to continue operations.

“The board is extremely pleased with the outcome of the bid,” Wright said Friday, adding that “having the additional capacity of the dock is going to be a huge benefit for us, and the community as a whole.”

At a meeting last month, the board allocated a total of $2.5 million to the project.

In addition to the $1.66 million to Hartz, the Riverport will purchase $250,000 in crushed stone from for the project, and will provide some of the needed steel, Wright said.

By James Mayse, Messenger-Inquirer, published March 19, 2022.

River, rail and trucks still important to local economy

Owensboro probably wouldn’t exist today if it weren’t for the Ohio River.

Legend has it that Bill Smeathers came to what was then called Yellow Banks in the late 1790s and opened a tavern about where the VFW post is today.

He is said to have traded with passing keelboats.

The railroads didn’t reach Owensboro until 1871, when the Owensboro & Russellville made its first run — to Livia, 14 miles from Owensboro.

And trucking began competing for the transportation dollar in the mid-20th century when improved roads made that a viable form of transportation.

Today, all three play a vital role in Owensboro’s economy.

Brian Wright, president of the Owensboro Riverport, says in Fiscal 2020-21, barges carried 920,000 tons of goods in and out on the riverport.

That’s the equivalent of 38,300 truckloads, he said.

And the railroad carried 170,000 tons, equivalent of 7,000 truckloads, Wright said.

CSX did not respond to questions about its role in the Owensboro economy.

But the Association of American Railroads says on its website that in a typical year, freight railroads haul around 1.7 billion tons of raw materials and finished goods.

It says that redesigned railcars have helped increase average tonnage.

In 2020, the average freight train carried 3,817 tons, up from 2,923 tons in 2000.

Statita.com says that 9.96 billion tons of freight was shipped by trucks in 2014.

The numbers increased every year until 2020, when the volume dropped to 10.23 billion tons from 11.84 billion in 2019.

Wright said he’s seen a lot of changes during the pandemic.

Truck driver shortage

There’s a national shortage of truck drivers with a commercial driver’s license that’s expected to reach a shortage of 100,000 drivers by next year.

And the Riverport is partnering with Owensboro Community & Technical College to provide training for drivers seeking the licenses.

That shortage, Wright said, has some companies turning away from trucks to railroads for shipment.

“There’s a strong interest in establishing inventories closer to their facilities,” he said. “That’s more relevant than it was three years ago.”

Wright said there is some concern that by 2045, America’s highways may not be able to handle all the shipments that companies need.

“In Fiscal 2021, we brought in more aluminum by rail,” he said. “Rail shipments were 63% of our aluminum business. Before that it was 50-50. And, in 2018-19, it was 91% by barge.”

The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission says on its website, “More than 184 million tons of cargo are transported on the Ohio River each year, with coal being the most commonly transported product.”

The river also led to the distilling industry in Kentucky.

Early farmers could produce 90 bushels of corn to the acre.

But there was no market for it.

Corn sold for 16 cents a bushel in the 1820s.

And whiskey was 30 cents a gallon.

One bushel of corn made 3 gallons of whiskey.

That meant a fivefold profit.

So, the corn was turned into whiskey and shipped down the river to New Orleans and other markets.

The Louisville, Henderson & St. Louis Railroad reached Owensboro on Dec. 3, 1888.

That’s the same east-west line that’s still in use today.

Where the train tracks run through Owensboro today is where the city limits were in the 1880s.

City officials wouldn’t let the tracks pass through town, so they’re just outside where the city limits were more than 130 years ago.

Despite changes in technology, all three forms of transportation are important to Owensboro today, Wright said.

By Keith Lawrence, Messenger-Inquirer, published March 9, 2022.

City-owned riverport still proving worth the investment 45 years later

In September 1966, the Owensboro City Commission created the Owensboro Riverport Authority in hopes of developing a commercial port that would lead to economic development.

It was the first city to create such an authority under legislation that had just passed the legislature a few months earlier.

But it would be another decade before the riverport actually opened.

In 1972, Owensboro Mayor Waitman Taylor was pushing for the development of the port.

But County Judge Pat Tanner — the last “county judge” before the title became “judge-executive” — was vehemently opposed to it.

He charged that it would cost taxpayers at least $150,000 to operate the port in its first year and the costs could go as high as $384,000.

So, the city developed the port on its own, opening it in June 1976 at a cost of $5.6 million.

Now, 45 years later, Brian Wright, Riverport president since 2013, says, “We’ve paid back the city above and beyond any money they’ve spent out here. We sent them $750,000 this past year and $1 million in each of the two years before that.”

The dividends have been paid to the city since 2001.

Record revenues

The port that some doubted would ever be successful — it didn’t turn a profit until 1993 — “had record revenues of $16.1 million last year and handled one million tons of commodities,” Wright said.

That was down slightly from 1.2 million tons the year before.

The riverport has $79.9 million in total assets, six companies on its property and it services between 40 and 50 area companies, Wright said.

Revenue this year is expected to be $14 million with $12 million in expenses.

Wright said, “We invested $3 million back into the port last year and we’re investing $9 million this year.”

Last year, the riverport bought a new materials handler for $1.9 million to help with loading and unloading barges and a spud barge for $1.1 million.

The spud barge can move up and down the river as needed for jobs like helping Yager Materials unload sand and gravel on occasion.

The riverport has 7,500 feet of river frontage.

This year, Wright said, they’re spending $1.5 million on wall stabilization along the river.

Second cargo dock

“We’re opening bids next week for a second cargo dock as part of the wall stabilization,” he said. “When the river is at 28 feet, part of the property floods. We’re building the wall one foot above the 100-year flood stage. We’re raising the road eight feet. Now, we average being flooded out 85 days a year. The higher road and dock will cut that to 15 to 20 days.”

Wright said, “The river is more erratic than it used to be.”

Two primary cargo docks allow the riverport to “service multiple customers simultaneously,” he said.

Wright said, “We’re expanding our bulk storage capacity. We’re desperately in need of more capacity for a variety of commodities.”

That will cost $2.5 million.

“Commodities are more diverse today,” Wright said. “We handle grain, fertilizer, paper, aluminum, steel coil, automotive frames, sodium bicarbonate.”

Everything from Kimberly-Clark paper to frames for the Jeep Gladiator from Metalsa.

Wright said, “With the shortage of truck drivers, we see more customers looking at river and rail transportation. We’ve shipped more aluminum by barge this year than ever before.”

The riverport is providing space for Owensboro Community & Technical College’s commercial driver’s license training program.

The port offers river, rail and truck transportation.

Carbon neutral

Wright said, “We’re seeing a need to be more carbon neutral in the future and barges are more carbon neutral than any one form of transportation.”

He expects to get business from Ford’s planned electric-vehicle battery factory when it opens in Glendale in a few years.

“It will need commodities to support it,” Wright said. “That puts us in a good spot.”

The riverport is also a customs point of entry and a foreign trade zone.

“Throughout the pandemic, we took in a massive amount of aluminum — 360,000 tons,” Wright said. “We were one of the key locations in the U.S. for aluminum.”

He said the number of trucks outbound with aluminum is up 50% this year.

Next year, Wright said, Kentucky 331, which runs from U.S. 60 West to beyond the riverport is being upgraded at a cost of $14.4 million.

The U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. Maritime Administration, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the riverport are partnering on the work.

The road will be three lanes through the two curves between U.S. 60 and the riverport, with sidewalks and bus stops.

Industries along the road will get a turn lane.

After the curves, Wright said, the road will be a super-two-lane — wider than a regular two-lane road.

Automotive, aluminum to grow

He said he expects automotive and aluminum shipments to continue to grow in the future.

Wright said, “We want to help the community grow with economic development. There’s a need for more river frontage for development and we’re ready to help.”

The riverport has 45 full-time employees.

“Our employees’ willingness to adapt during COVID has been instrumental in our success,” Wright said. “They are the backbone of our success.”

The city has twice considered selling the riverport to a private company.

In 2014, Owensboro Grain Co. attempted to buy the port, but its bid, which was not disclosed, was rejected as too low.

Then-Mayor Ron Payne said at the time that if the port was sold, part of the proceeds would likely be used to build a new senior citizens center.

It’s never been built.

In 2009, a special committee appointed by the City Commission spent several months looking into the possible sale or privatization of the riverport, after two companies approached the city about buying it.

In December that year, the committee recommended that the terminal remain publicly owned and under the guidance of its public board of directors.

And after 45 years, it remains a city-owned facility.

By Keith Lawrence, Messenger-Inquirer, published Oct 25, 2021.

Riverport property to be used for CDL training

The Owensboro Riverport Authority board voted Wednesday to allow Owensboro Community & Technical College to use 1.76 vacant acres there as a training area for students seeking their commercial drivers license.

Mike Rodgers, chief institutional officer at OCTC, said the nation needs 90,000 more truck drivers this year and the need will grow to more than 100,000 in the next two years.

So, OCTC will launch its new four-week program in mid-October.

Rodgers said the new CDL Academy classes will last eight hours a day, with 1.5 weeks spent in the classroom and the rest of the time in either a simulator or a truck.

The Riverport property, which is on Rinaldo Road, will be used to teach the students how to hook and unhook a trailer, parallel park and back up to a loading dock, Rodgers said.

He said he expects six to 10 students in the first class and more as potential drivers learn about it.

The second class for new students will begin in January.

Rodgers said the college has purchased a simulator, two trucks and one trailer for the program.

By Keith Lawrence Messenger-Inquirer, published Aug 26, 2021.