SALISBURY –Working on a tight budget, the Wicomico County Council was hesitant to fund a study to analyze what the market would bear to expand the Port of Salisbury, but officials ultimately did agree to provide matching funds for a state grant.
A resolution authorizing the County Executive to accept a grant award from the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED) in the amount of $26,500 and appropraite matching funds in the same amount approached the County Council on Tuesday morning.
The resolution reads, “The Department of Public Works desires to prepare a local economic development Strategic Plan to develop the River port, and has submitted an application to DBED and has been awarded a grant in the amount of $26,500, with required local funding in the amount of $26,500, for a total cost of $53,000.”
Pamela Hepner of DBED reported the county has an oppurtunity to purchase several parcels available along the unindustrial zoned Wicomico River for a River port in Salisbury that would serve multiple businesses and provide economic development in the surronding area. The river port would provide infrastructure and access to companies in the area who could not afford this service on their own. Potential users would include local businesses that currently use the Wicomico River to transport material and commodities by barge such as Perdue Agribusiness.
A proposal has been submitted by Martin Associates Economic & Transportation Consultants to conduct the strategic plan.
“We felt there was an oppurtunity here to develop a terminal facility to be used by multiple users, and that is really what this is. It is an expansion of the existing Port of Salisbury capabilities to allow for smaller users … this Strategic Plan is the first part to develop a market analysis of what the market would bear for a multi-user facility,” Public Works Director Lee Beauchamp said. “The second part of this study would be to develop what the infrastructure needs would be, and how a port authority would be structured to manage this facility.”
The majority of the council were connecting the resolution on the table to approve funding for the strategic plan to the next resolution on the agenda to approve the Department of Public Works to submit an application to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s TIGER Grants Program requesting funding for $579,390 with a 25-percent match of $193,130 for a total project cost of $772,520.
The funding would be used to prepare a comprehensive development plan to expand the Port of Salisbury and to improve the supporting infrastructure to establish multi-modal freight corridor. The grant would be the next step in the process to expand the Port of Salisbury.
“I just don’t think the timing is right, right now. I understand why we’re doing but this is another over $200,000 that we are looking to spend on a study,” Councilman Bob Culver said. “In the right business climate, you would be on cue for starting this but I don’t see this being the right busienss climate.”
Councilman John Hall was the only member to speak in favor of moving forward with the strategic plan.
“We are talking about entreprenuership, and a vision for the future of our community, and if we don’t do anything then we will end up with having nothing at this point,” he said. “This is strictly a strategic plan to give us a direction to go in, and if we implement the plan we will certianly be better off tomorrow then we are today in just having the plan done.”
The council voted 5-2 to table the resolution for further discussion at a work session with Hall and Council President Matt Holloway in oppositon.
“For as long as I have lived here we have talked about what a great asset the port is, and what has been done with the port in the past 20 years?” Director of Administration Wayne Strausburg said. “We have talked about the need for Perdue to relocate their grain terminal below the drawbridge to open the north prong. What we are proposing here is a strategic study to determine how to better utilize the head of the Wicomico River. You are making direct linkage to the TIGER grant, and in my mind they are not linked. We are looking at how to make better use of one the primary assets that we have in this county, and at the same time talking about economic development over, and over, and over again. There needs to be some vision.”
Strausburg encouraged the council to reconsider their vote.
“It is existing money. That money has been there for a long time. We are trying to put it into a perspective to look out how we can better utilize the citicial asset that we have in this county,” he said.
Councilwoman Gail Bartkovich stated she would be willing to move forward with the study as long as its not obligating the county to any other funds.
“It is not,” Strausburg responded.
The council conducted a recall vote, voting unanimously to approve the resoution to conduct a strategic plan to expand the Port of Salisbury. The council decided to withdraw the next resolution regarding the TIGER grant.