Officials hailed Monday's decision by the Maritime Administration to designate the Missouri River from Kansas City to Sioux City, Iowa, as a Marine Highway.
"I didn't think I'd live long enough to see it happen," said Ron Blakley, a St. Joseph Port Authority board member.
The designation opens access to the river and will assist in making river traffic another competitive transportation facet in Northwest Missouri, said U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo.
Mr. Graves and colleagues from the Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois Congressional delegations wrote to the agency, which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, in April in support of the designation for this stretch of the river, known as the M-29 corridor. A Marine Highway designation promotes freight shipping on the nation's inland waterways.
"This is great news for the communities in Northwest Missouri that benefit from the Missouri River as an economic resource," Mr. Graves, said. "This designation has the potential to open up new possibilities for shipping and navigation on the river."
It could reopen a port at Rock Port, Mo., and there could be another port in Holt County, Mr. Graves said. Grain is the big export coming out of the region and barge transportation is cost efficient, Mr. Graves said. Ports in St. Joseph and Rock Port could become centers for grain transportation, saving millions of dollars by reducing the impact of trucks on area highways, he said.
The St. Joseph port will require improvements in order to handle grain, fertilizer and other loose, bulk commodities, Mr. Blakley said.
The Missouri River from Kansas City to St. Louis, as well as the Mississippi River south of St. Louis, have both already been designated Marine Highways. According to the Maritime Administration, the agency has now designated 21 Marine Highway routes, and invested $130 million in projects supporting Marine Highway services, since 2009.
The designation puts St. Joseph and other communities to the north on an equal playing field, said Brad Lau, the St. Joseph Metro Chamber's vice president of economic development. The Maritime Administration offers consultation services and the port here in St. Joseph will avail itself of those services, Mr. Lau said.
Last week, Mr. Graves and Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., announced they had successfully included language in the House Water Resources Reform and Development Act ensuring the Army Corps of Engineers has a clear, results-based strategy for mitigation on the Missouri River.
However, low use still equals low priority for funding in the Corps' formulas. If the designation creates more freight being moved on the Missouri River, there is a possibility of increased funding.
However, the river from Kansas City north has a designation as a low use waterway, said John Grothaus, the Corps Kansas City District chief of plan formulation.
There could be an increase if the Marine Highway initiative creates a significant amount of freight movement on the Missouri River, said David Kolarik, a spokesman for the Corps Kansas City district.
Marshall White can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPWhite.
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