Warren County transfers $1 million to Port Commission for land acquisition

Published 3:32 pm Friday, March 4, 2022

Progress on the new Port of Vicksburg is moving along, with approximately 1,100 acres of land under contract.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors on Feb. 22 approved the transfer of $1 million to the port commission for the project. According to Vicksburg-Warren Partnership Executive Director and CEO Pablo Diaz, the funds will be used for the acquisition of land within the new port site and other expenses related to purchasing the properties.

“The action of the county is directly associated with the new port. Both the county and city have expressed their commitment to developing a new port south of I-20,” Diaz said. “We have 1,100 plus acres already under contract and that we have completed due diligence for. As we finish due diligence, the deed search process begins. After that, we’re planning to close on those properties as soon as possible. Because these expenses are already coming in, the county decided to make a transfer.”

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Diaz said it’s important to note that the city of Vicksburg and Warren County have committed to a dollar match, meaning the city will match those funds at a later date. A $1 million transfer to the Port Commission has not yet appeared on agendas for the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen, but Diaz clarified that the commission has not made a request to the city for the funds.

Still, Diaz said, the community partnership between elected officials and the Port Commission is significant in both the long- and short-term future of the Vicksburg area.

“It’s important for the community to understand that it’s $1 from the city, $1 from the county. They are going 50-50 in this effort to acquire land that we need for the South Port Complex development,” he said. “We see this port complex development as the essential step the community has to take to develop economic activity in the next 25 to 35 years.”

Warren County Board of Supervisors President Kelle Barfield offered clarification on the county’s decision to transfer the funds.

“As we look at areas for economic growth in Warren County, this is a prime location. We know that we have to invest in activities such as property acquisition and flood protection if we’re going to reap the economic benefits of this property,” she said. “Upon the advice of the state auditor, it’s prudent to set aside the funds in a separate account, so that as expenses come up, there is a specific paper trail that’s tied to that project.

“The dollar amount was based on a potential estimate of the total cost to be split between the city and county. It does not necessarily mean that all those funds will be spent,” she added.

It’s also important to note the South Port Complex development, or “Economic Development Project A,” as it has been called in meetings, is not intended to be a replacement for the current port of Vicksburg, located on Haining Road.

Instead, Diaz said, the South Port is intended to keep the momentum that began on Haining Road going.

“The Haining Road Port has provided economic activity for the last 40-plus years,” he said. “We still have more than 4,000 jobs that depend on that facility, so we know what port infrastructure can do for a community, and we just don’t have any more space there.

“It’s an extension of our existing port infrastructure. We’re just expanding our port availability,” he added. “Nothing really changes with the existing port; we’re continuing to take care of that port and invest in that port and have the same interest we always had in working with those companies and intend to grow it as much as we can.”

While the acquisition and development process may seem tedious as the project gets underway, Diaz said it’s important for the community to understand the public benefit of the project. Citing the market analysis conducted by the Partnership, Diaz explained there are quantifiable reasons why investing in port infrastructure is vital to Warren County’s success.

“This is an investment in high-paying jobs of the future and if we don’t invest now, you will find Vicksburg and Warren County potentially in trouble, because we won’t be creating enough jobs,” he said. “There are simple, objective, mathematical reasons why the South Port is the best thing for the community to do. That has to do with availability for power capacity that’s not available anywhere else in the county or the state.”

Particularly, the South Port will bring greater accessibility to the Mississippi River, easy access to rail and a four-lane highway, aspects not present at the Haining Road port.

In terms of the land acquisition process for the South Port, Diaz said the use of eminent domain is a tool the city and county can access. The Port Commission is in contact with all the property owners in the proposed South Port site, and has drawn up contracts with “a good number” of them. The goal, he added, is to purchase the lands the right way, for the right price.

“We want to acquire these properties the right way,” he said. “There is an appraised market value for each of these properties, and the project itself is committed to being fair, making sure whoever owns these properties has a fair price they can sell it for, and also making sure the community acquires these properties for a fair price.”

Once the land is acquired, Diaz said the next step of site development is to build a levee to protect the site. Then, the main development of the port itself can begin.

Due to the abundance of infrastructure funding at the federal level, Diaz said the community can anticipate a quicker timeline from the project than in pre-COVID times.

“Because of COVID, the federal support (brings) an opportunity that we don’t see very often,” he said. “If there is a silver lining to COVID, it’s that we have money available for these kinds of projects. We want to strike while it’s hot and that might help make this possible in an expedited timetable. If it was a normal situation, it would be a much longer process.”

As the project continues and preparations are made for site development and the first shovel in the soil, Diaz said a tremendous amount of thought has contributed to every decision leading to the South Port project.

“The city nor the county has arrived at this juncture in a day. This has been a long-studied process and they have studied the issue and decided this was the way forward,” he said. “They are working together, dollar-for-dollar, in a visionary project that secures the future of the community. That’s something to celebrate.”