Posted on

A port authority adopted to help railroad service

A port authority was established by ordinance Monday night at the regular Harrison County Commissioners meeting, primarily to see to it that rail services continue for industrial users now that Tower Automotive, a major rail customer, has shut down.
Since the shut-down, the privately owned Louisville, New Albany and Corydon railroad company has not been able to justify continuing the service, said Harrison County Economic Development Director Darrell Voelker.
Voelker, speaking to the commissioners at a planning session Saturday, said that while there is no specific plan of action today, a commitment to continue providing rail service to industrial users is needed. A port authority could continue to operate the railroad, he said.
Council chair Gary Davis was in the audience. He said, ‘What it does is gives you authority to operate the railroad. Would the county want to do that or have a port authority do that?’
It makes more sense to have a port authority take over that responsibility, he said. ‘Funds are available to a port authority that are not available to the county.’
Commissioner James Goldman said establishing a port authority would signify pro-active decision-making. ‘It takes a leap of faith in everything we do from time to time,’ Goldman said.
‘You don’t do that leap of faith blindly’ but only after studying the pros and cons, he said. A port authority would be run with a seven-member board appointed by the commissioners.
‘They would not have a free hand at everything,’ Goldman said.
Commission chair John R. Eckart said a port authority would likely bring more benefit to Harrison County than a new Ohio River bridge (see related story below).
That bridge, he said, would likely bring ‘low-end housing’ and a ‘bedroom community’ to eastern Harrison County.
On Monday night, Eckart said he was opposed to establishing a port authority because: ‘I have this feeling about growing government … I would have to be opposed to it.
‘But at the same time, we don’t have an entity that would take on a task like this,’ Eckart said, adding: ‘We have to have some means to take care of’ rail service.
The checks and balances that normally exist between units of government are missing with a port authority, Eckart said.
Voelker said the economic development commission discussed buying the railroad outright, but there is no mechanism in place to allow that.
Goldman said he believes establishing a port authority is in the best interest of the county and moved to do so. ‘I, too, agree with James,’ said Commissioner Jim Heitkemper, seconding his motion.