Port study up for discussion
By Matt Mikus email@example.com September 2, 2013 10:58PM
Updated: October 4, 2013 6:06AM
As Gary and East Chicago prepare to offer proposals for a future port, the Joint Study Committee for Transportation and Infrastructure will look at a number of factors before moving forward.
As part of the Gary Bill passed during the 2013 General Assembly session, a feasibility study will examine the potential of expanding the Port of Indiana into Lake County.
State legislators will meet Sept. 12 at the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, and the port study is one of many issues that will be discussed.
State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, chairman of the committee, is looking to discuss three factors before the state moves forward on paying for the feasibility study for creating a new port in Lake County.
First, there needs to be clear evidence that there’s enough traffic to support an expansion. Soliday said he doesn’t want to use tax dollars just to shuffle jobs from one port to another.
“If we’re just dividing the pie into smaller pieces and creating more bureaucracy,” Soliday said, “then help me find the upside.”
Other factors include the engineering challenges a project might face, and what potential environmental impacts might exist or be created by a new port.
These larger questions need to be considered before a feasibility study begins, Soliday said.
The discussion for future ports also may include how many sites to build, but state and regional officials want to wait for the study to measure how much potential is in the region.
East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland believes his city has potential because of the small peninsula that’s located near ArcelorMittal’s facilities.
“Are they looking at this to one gigantic port or separate parts that coexist? I don’t know,” Copeland said. “I’m waiting to hear what the committee comes up with this. If they think it should be one, then what’s the most viable one?”
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson sees Buffington Harbor as a potential location if the casino is relocated along Interstate 80/94.
She said she will argue for the port in her city, but it’s not necessarily a win-lose competition.
“We always look at this from a viewpoint of competition,” Freeman-Wilson said. “But the reality is, if East Chicago wins, I win. If I win, East Chicago wins. If they have the port, they still have to use rail, trucks and workers from Gary.
“It’s not an either-or. It could even be both. That’s why the legislature commissioned this study.”
Rich Cooper, CEO of the Port of Indiana, said he hasn’t had a chance to sit and talk to either city about the potential for the port expansion.
“A very careful study of these type of projects is warranted,” Cooper said, “because more ports do not necessarily mean more business. The forthcoming discussion on this topic in Representative Soliday’s Transportation Study Committee will be a good one.”