Local business owner says she could save with Heartland Port Authority

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JEFFERSON CITY - Planning for the Heartland Port Authority moved forward during the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday. 

Councilman Rick Mihalevech said the committee adopting the bylaws at the meeting was "a big step." 

"It's such an economical way to transport and what we don't understand in Heartland and in Central Missouri, with the widening of the Panama Canal, we could be a major player," Mihalevech said.

Roger Fischer is the Vice President of the Board of Commissioners and Western district Commissioner of Callaway County. He said during this early stage in the process, groundwork needs to be laid first.

"We are coming up with the strong set of bylaws that aren't too stringent but hold us accountable for our actions," he said.

The Chamber is still waiting to hear back on a federal grant they applied for. That grant of $900,000 would pay for the "preliminary planning" for the project including engineering and utilization of the properties.

Some members on the board of commissions were worried about companies not having a written letter of guaranteed interest in the project. 

Kris Scheperle thought it would be a waste of time if they build the port and then no one comes, but Randy Allen, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, said the study showed interests. 

One company that is very interested in the project is Gastineau Log Homes, the world's largest Oak home manufacturer. President Lynn Gastineau said they have exported off and on since 1970 through the Mississippi River and into the Panama Canal.

Gastineau specializes in oak, which is heavier than other wood, and ships out to buyers internationally. But, she said it can get very expensive because roads have weight limits lower than a barge's weight limit. 

"If we don't have to pull the containers on the road, we can put a lot more stuff in them which means it takes a lot less containers and when you're shipping halfway around the world that becomes a big difference in cost," she said.

Gastineau estimated, a shipment of 12 containers on the roads would fit into 8 containers on a ship, saving a total cost of $32,000 when shipping to Mongolia simply by using the Missouri River. 

"We have such a natural resource with the Missouri River here and we're not utilizing it nearly as much as we should," Gastineau said. "Other companies consider us landlocked and we're not!"

"Being right here in the middle of the United States is a great advantage for business...but when people think about us exporting, they say 'Well, you're in the middle of Missouri, that's got to be really tough,' Well, you know, the rivers make it really easy," she said.

Fischer said he is not interested in supporting the project with tax money from the public, rather, the board is interested in looking for private investments from the companies that will be using the port.

He said he hopes to start building in late 2019 or early 2020.