Missouri Gov. Mike Parson sees the benefits of Herculaneum becoming part of a new transportation system utilizing the Mississippi River.

On Monday, Parson came to the Herculaneum Fire Department station to see a presentation on a plan to create a new vessel service to transport goods from a port in Louisiana up the river.

Presenters included Jefferson County Executive Dennis Gannon and a raft of representatives from transportation entities.

“This is a magnificent opportunity,” Parson said. “From a governor’s point of view and a state point of view, we need to put everything on the table and be prepared for the future.”

The proposal calls for development of a shipping plan that would start at the Plaquemines Port Harbor and Terminal District, at the mouth of the Mississippi River just south of New Orleans, that could include Herculaneum as the northernmost point of a large-scale shipping operation.

In January 2018, the Jefferson County Port Authority signed a memorandum of understanding with the Plaquemines Port to be part of the new shipping system.

Plaquemines is being developed as hub for cargo vessels taking advantage of the widened Panama Canal.

The Louisiana port has partnered with American Patriot Holding (APH), which has designed a specialized vessel to carry the large amount of shipping containers being moved through the canal into the Gulf of Mexico and to the Plaquemines port.

Each APH vessel, traveling at a speed of 13 mph, would be able to carry up to 2,500 containers up and down the Mississippi River, in a 10-day round trip from Plaquemines to the St. Louis area, according to a press release from Bi-State Development, one of the project’s stakeholders.

The Jefferson County Port Authority wants to expand the Herculaneum port, which is operated by Riverview Commerce Park, by purchasing land from Doe Run, which formerly operated a lead smelter in Herculaneum, said Derrick Good, president of the Port Authority Board of Directors.

Good said the port is currently 18 acres, and in order to add two docks to exclusively cater to the new APH vessels, the facility would need to double in size. He said land needs to be acquired from Doe Run and then developed to support the expanded operation.

“It can be a revitalization of those 260 acres that are so critical to the city,” Good said. “The city was built around Doe Run. This is an opportunity to reclaim that land.”

Good said the project would require a public-private partnership to finance.

He said some of the infrastructure to develop the port is already in place to allow cargo unloaded in Herculaneum to be shipped across the country by truck, or loaded on smaller barges to continue up the Mississippi River. Other water routes to Jefferson City and Kansas City are also available.

The St. Louis region – which includes Jefferson County – is an important player because it is the northernmost area on the Mississippi before a series of locks and dams limit the size of barges, and because of its location near the confluences with the Missouri and Illinois rivers.

“For the type of infrastructure that is going to need to be done, it will require a team effort,” Good said. “Herculaneum has a great bridge and entrance road into the property, so you don’t have to worry about that as much. There will be some traffic stuff around I-55.”

Parson’s reaction

Parson said Monday was the first time for him to see the presentation, and that he was asked if the state would get behind the project.

“I said, ‘Yeah, we will talk with economic development, we will talk with MoDOT (Missouri Department of Transportation) and we will see what the finished product of that is,” Parson said. “We are on the right track here. I’m telling you with the Panama Canal doubling the cargo space to come up here, Missouri is in a prime spot to take advantage of that. People in this room are well aware of that and trying to figure out solutions for the future. The presentation I saw today, it addresses something that will be important 10 years down the road.”

During the presentation, Sal Litrico, president of American Patriot Holding, said construction to expand the Louisiana port and create the new vessels is scheduled to start in 2020. He said the plan is to have the shipping system operational by 2022.

Job creation?

Good said the project is still in the planning stage at Herculaneum.

“We are pushing to put something solid on paper,” Good said. “The next year is critical. There are still a lot of variables, but it is becoming clearer.”

One thing that is clear is the potential for job creation in the area if the port is expanded and becomes the last northern stop of the system.

When the Port Authority signed the non-binding agreement last year with Plaquemines, Jefferson County Port Authority executive director Neal Breitweiser said the project could create as many as 650 jobs.

“It is a tremendous opportunity,” Parson said. “When you talk about these ports and where they are located in Jefferson County, think about where you can go from there. You can take rail now from the east to the west coast or go from Canada to Mexico, all of those lines are open.

“People are starting to realize distribution is a real cost expense for doing business. If you can get it in the middle of the United States and distribute it, that is a plus.”