Expansion at Port and schools on D.C. radar

Published 11:00 am Friday, February 7, 2014

The Port of Vicksburg.

The Port of Vicksburg.

Expansion of the Port of Vicksburg and an overhaul of the local education system were among the unified bloc of ideas a team of 16 Vicksburg and Warren County officials shared with Mississippi’s delegates in the nation’s capital this week.

The group returned Wednesday night after meeting with Mississippi’s U.S. Senators and Representatives to present plans that would benefit the city, county and state, Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said.

“I thought it was a very productive trip and we got a renewed interest in Vicksburg and Warren County. They were glad to see a unified front,” Flaggs said.

Much of the conversation focused on the importance of the Mississippi River and how Vicksburg plans to reclaim its status as a major transportation and shipping hub and expanding educational opportunities through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and grant funding, Flaggs said.

“We couldn’t use the word the word earmark, because that’s a dirty word now in Washington,” he said. “They were excited about us redeveloping Vicksburg and Warren County around the Corps of Engineers.”

Expanding the Port of Vicksburg would cost an estimated $5 million to $10 million dollars, said Bill Lauderdale, president of the board of supervisors.

“That’s what we’re trying to get some help on. It’s in the beginning stages, but we’re looking at a couple different things,” Lauderdale said. “It’s not cheap.”

Adding additional industrial sites at the at-capacity Port of Vicksburg would benefit not just Warren County but the entire region, he said.

“If we can get it done and land one of the industries that require the river, we’ve got some good paying jobs that will be available,” he said.

Currently, the county is seeking grant funding for a study on exactly how much the port should expand, said Wayne Mansfield, director of the Warren County Port Commission.

“If you look up and down the Mississippi River, there are very few river sites available,” he said. “We want to be the leader in the state of Mississippi.”

The unified front presented by the community’s leaders and a more receptive mood in Washington, D.C, than in previous years should help get the ball rolling on potential funding for the study, expansion and much-needed dredging as the shipping market expands, he said.

“Energy and chemical-related industries are shipping more. I think in the coming years, there will be an emphasis on some containerized barge shipping, and we certainly want to position ourselves to be ready for that,” Mansfield said.

Job creation and business leads to the need for a well educated and trained workforce, which the Vicksburg Warren County School District is hoping to create though a program that will land each graduating senior in an internship or with a year of college credit under their belt, Superintendent Chad Shealey said.

The school district has applied for a grant that would cover the approximately $4 million cost of the program.

Many students who drop out of high school can’t read proficiently and others feel “there’s a lack of relevance in learning,” he said.

“We need to provide training that’s going to help our high school graduates be effective citizens and prepare for school or the workforce,” Shealey said.

Cameron-LeTourneau has already expressed interest in providing internships to students and a plan is in the works to expand science and match education with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“This is an opportunity to do something greater and bigger for all students,” he said.