The Columbus-Lowndes Port Authority continues to make preparations for the Kior biofuels plant, currently under construction.
Wednesday, the board approved the low bidder for road improvements near the Kior plant. The city of Columbus, Lowndes County and the Port Authority jointly are sharing the cost, $234,582, to add a third lane to Industrial Park Access Road, minus a $150,000 grant from the Mississippi Development Authority.
Burns Dirt Construction was the low bidder on the project.
Kior will turn wood chips into fuel at its campus, using trees from Weyerhaeuser-managed forests.
Construction began in the first quarter of 2011; KBR is in charge of engineering and construction.
Production is set to begin in the second half of 2012.
The plant is expected to generate several hundred direct and indirect and induced jobs, “as well as employ up to 500 people during peak construction,” a company spokesperson wrote in an email. “Kior hopes to hire locally whenever possible.”
Locally, Kior is making a more than $200 million investment.
Once Kior is operational, the business will pay the Port Authority an annual $25,000 operating fee; the port also will receive an annual payment of about $25,000 each from the city and the county.
Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders estimates Kior will pay about $372,000 in taxes annually, $148,000 to the Lowndes County School District and about $112,000 to each the city of Columbus and Lowndes County.
“Really, until they get up and running, we don”t have any revenue (from Kior),” said John Hardy, director of the Columbus-Lowndes Port.
Should the project fall through for any reason, there is a provision for the land to revert back to the Port Authority.
“We”re just glad that they are investing that kind of money here,” Hardy said of Kior.
The Port Authority Wednesday also approved an easement for a 6-inch Atmos gas line for Kior.
Since Kior secured its land at the port, the Columbus-Lowndes County Port has about 50-60 acres available for development, out of a total of about 180 acres.
“We”re going to have to look for more land,” Hardy said. “Kior took 30-something acres, and we”ve been working with the (Columbus-Lowndes Development Link) to try to assess some areas up and down the waterway. The problem is so much of the land is in the floodway, and industry doesn”t like to invest in land in the floodway or the floodplain.”
With an eye toward expansion, the Port Authority has employed the services of Neel-Schaffer Engineering to design a rail spur for the west bank.
At the east bank, the port has access to rail, water and road; the Port Authority is seeking to have the same intermodal opportunities at the west bank.
The environmental studies, engineering, design and wetland mitigation are being paid for through a $300,000 Mississippi Department of Transportation grant.
Construction is estimated to cost between $4 million and $5 million.
“What we”re trying to do is get everything done, so if we were to get funding, we would have everything done already,” Hardy said, offering Severstal steel mill as an example of why the west bank needs rail capability in addition to its current water and truck modes of transportation.
“They use that west bank,” he said of Severstal. “This would give them more options of transportation for their products. We feel like if we are to expand that west bank, we need to have all three forms of transportation out there.
“This is kind of a long-term thing. It may be two years; it may be five years. With everything that”s going on out there at the industrial park, it makes sense to expand out there.”
Other port projects
The rehabilitation of the east bank rail spur is about 98-percent complete. The $100,000 project is funded by a grant from MDOT.
The upgrading of the rail scale, which weighs rail cars, is about 90-percent complete. The $50,000 project also is funded by a grant from MDOT.
Calvert-Spradling is handling the submission of bids to make a half-mile portion of Old Macon Road on the west bank, from Kinder Morgan to end of the port, heavy duty.
“If we have a client that wants to locate over there on the water then we”ll have a road that can support trucks,” Hardy said. “If you put loaded trucks (on it now), they would tear it up after a while.”
An intermodal connector grant is paying for 80 percent of the $210,000 project.
Funding from Port Authority comes from lease charges and tonnage fees from industries using the port. Industries at the port include Kinder Morgan, a pipeline transportation and energy storage company that also stores and handles gasoline, jet fuel, ethanol, coal and petroleum; Southern Ionics chemical manufacturer, Logistics Services, a public terminal handling the unloading of barges and trucks; Southern Wood Fiber wood-chip mill; and Baldor Electric, which makes industrial motors and generators.