Port-rail agency awarded additional upgrade money

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Fifth time the charm in USDA loan applications

By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

TELL CITY - The fifth time was the charm for the Perry County Port Authority in its attempts to secure U.S. Department of Agriculture funding toward its 286,000-pound-rail project.

The USDA announced May 7 the port authority was among 28 organizations in 11 states receiving shares of $15 million in grants or loans intended to create or retain jobs and spur economic development in rural communities.

The port authority, doing business as Hoosier Southern Railroad, is getting a $740,000 loan administered by Southern Indiana Power.

"Our co-op has the ability to apply for zero-interest loans on behalf of agencies like the port authority," said Southern Indiana Power President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Hammack.

Dick Neumann, vice president and CEO for the port authority, said at a February board-of-directors meeting a fourth application to the USDA money had failed.

"They are scored on a points basis," Hammack explained Friday. "They didn't get funded in the first rounds, then lo and behold, we were selected this time."

The cost initially projected for the upgrade was $9.1 million, but the port board opted to break it into phases when that amount appeared difficult to obtain.

Phase 1 is pegged at $5.1 million, Neumann said Tuesday, and will achieve most of the desired upgrades. The remainder, for which funding is uncertain, will include bridge and other improvements.

"These funds will help rural communities build stronger local economies," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in announcing the grants and loans. One of the strengths of the USDA Rural Development Program, he added, "is that the USDA works with organizations that are best positioned to help address an area's economic needs."

The funding is being provided to rural utility and telephone cooperatives, which re-loan it to local businesses, according to a Rural Development news release announcing the funding.

Loan amounts ranged from $500,000 to $740,000. Grants of $300,000 went to nine electric utilities in Iowa, Tennessee Wisconsin and South Carolina, with another receiving $290,000.