ATLANTA — A new “inland port” near Cordele, meant to cover hundreds of acres and handle thousands of massive containers a year, is awaiting word on federal funding that could push construction to start later this year, local officials said.
Cargo would come in on trains from the port of Savannah, then be loaded onto trucks bound for the Gulf Coast and into Mississippi. The trucks wouldn’t have to wait in line at Georgia’s growing port, and the project eventually could bring thousands of jobs to the Cordele area.
The facility would be the first of its kind in Georgia, said Cordele-Crisp Industrial Development Council Executive Director Bruce Drennan, and one of a few like it across the country.
“We’re going to buy the property this month or next month,” Drennan said last week. “We’re hoping to be shipping out of here in the third quarter of 2010.”
The financing largely depends on a pair of federal grants for which organizers are waiting to learn their fate. One would total $38 million, most of which would be used to refurbish the rail line between Cordele and Savannah and could be announced this month, Drennan said. Another would be about $8.2 million to help cover land acquisition and construction costs, he said.
There are other moving pieces to the funding plan, but the site itself is relatively level, meaning there won’t be much grading work needed there. And these inland ports don’t require much in the way of building, according to a spokesman for a similar facility in Virginia.
If the federal money comes through, the project “will happen immediately,” state Rep. Buddy Harden, R-Cordele, said. “If not, private investment will step in, and it will move a little slower.
“I’m very confident that it’s going to happen,” Harden said.
Drennan didn’t want to share the details on the backup funding plan, and he refused to say who owns the land the facility would be built on, and Harden said he didn’t know. Drennan said there are two current owners, and that about 600 acres are under option on the east side of Cordele, adjacent to an existing industrial park.
The plan is to start with a 200-acre complex and grow it over time, he said.
Based on Virginia model
In 1989, the Virginia Inland Port opened in Front Royal, Va., connected by rail to several coastal terminals where ships unload cargo.
About a dozen people worked at the facility, and the going was slow to begin with.
“We were just dying on the vine,” port spokesman Joe Harris said. “People thought we were crazy.”
But in 2008, the inland port handled more than 33,600 40-foot containers. About 25 people work at the facility itself, and there are 7,000 jobs in the surrounding area that tie in with the port, Harris said.
If the Crisp County project follows a similar path, “it could be the largest employer in the area” in a few years, Harden said.
Building the inland port “was not a great effort,” Harris said. Like in Crisp County, the railroad tracks were already in place. After that, you basically need some roads, some concrete and an office building, he said.
“It’s pretty low impact, and it’s pretty low visibility,” Harris said. “Not a bunch of big trains sticking out, and not hundreds of trucks lined up outside the gate.”
Many players involved
Getting all the players and railroads involved on the same page has taken about four years, Harden said.
The state owns most of the track between Cordele and Savannah, but Heart of Georgia Railroad operates on the track through a contract with the government, Harden said. CSX owns the last piece of track headed into the port of Savannah, making that railroad company a key partner in the plan, he said.
Norfolk Southern is involved as well, Drennan said. And Harden said the Georgia Department of Transportation already has committed money to repair rail bridges along the route.
The facility itself would be run as a public-private partnership of sorts, Drennan said. Private companies could construct warehouses nearby, and trucks would roll out of the port bound for Mississippi and the Gulf Coast, he said.
“This has got the potential to really, really change our part of the state,” Drennan said.
And if federal funding doesn’t come through, he said, “then we’ll regroup and see how we want to restructure this for the benefit of the community.”
To contact writer Travis Fain, call 361-2702.