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story.lead_photo.caption Backers of a proposed Missouri River port in or near Jefferson City are working to advance the project. Photo by Julie Smith / Fulton Sun.

Efforts are underway to pass legislation in the 2020 Missouri General Assembly that would make land available for a port facility on the Missouri River in Jefferson City.

Heartland Port Authority commissioners on Tuesday discussed the legislation that would transfer 116 acres of state-owned land just east of the Ike Skelton Training Facility in Jefferson City to the Port Authority.

State Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville, who sponsored the land transference bill in the Missouri House last year, filed legislation again this year. State Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, sponsored the legislation in the Senate last year and has also filed a similar bill this year.

Veit said he doesn't foresee any obstacles to getting the legislation passed in 2020.

Last year, the Jefferson City land transference was tied in with other land transfer requests from across the state. While there was no opposition voiced to Jefferson City's request, the land transfer bill did not make it to the full Senate and House for consideration, as state budget debates lasted into the final days of the legislative session.

"This group strongly considered all locations on the south side of the river and looked at what has been done versus what could be done, and I think we've reached consensus that this is the site we support," Port Authority Commission Chair Rick Mihalevich said Tuesday.

Veit's bill, HB 1330, was referred to the House Transportation Committee earlier this month with a public hearing Jan. 16.

Bernskoetter's bill, SB 585, was first read and second read earlier this month then referred to the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee for a hearing.

There is $10.1 million for ports in Gov. Mike Parson's budget, Mihalevich said. He said it is unlikely the Heartland Port would get much, if any, of that money yet because they don't have the land.

Also at Tuesday's Heartland Port Authority board meeting, members discussed contacting area businesses that would likely benefit from the facilities a port would provide. This coincides with a study underway to develop a business development plan to assist in marketing the port.

"We need to find a business to anchor this facility," said Cole County Western District Commissioner Kris Scheperle, who also serves on the Port Authority board. "I don't see the state giving us any more funds now, so I'm looking at landing one big fish."

Port Authority board members have talked to groups in the agriculture and forestry industries that might have an interest. Other businesses they plan to contact include Dollar General, DeLong's Inc., Orscheln, Quaker Windows in Freeburg and Arkansas Valley Feathers in California.

Port Authority board members said they have talked with Farmers Concrete about what a port could do for their business. Members noted the business lost two months of construction season work due to flooding around their current plant on the river last year and perhaps moving some of their operation farther south to the proposed port site could be a benefit for the company.

Callaway County Commissioner Roger Fischer, who serves as vice-chair of the Port Authority board, talked with a group of grain farmers in Callaway County who have expressed interest in using a local port rather than taking their products to St. Louis to ship out. Fischer said one of the farmers has connections to Vietnam for a future product he's looking to develop and could be ready to send that out by the time the Heartland Port could be up and running in three to five years.

"We want to get businesses that are sending products out for a distance of 500 miles — or, even better, sending them overseas," Fischer said.

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