River businesses step up to help with Port of Salisbury

Salisbury will get financial help from two local businesses to pay part of the costs of a Port Feasibility Study with the goal of increasing import and export tonnage.

City Council members on Monday gave preliminary approval to accept $3,000 from Chesapeake Shipbuilding and $1,000 from tugboat and barge operator Vane Brothers to use toward the project. The second reading of the ordinance – and final approval – is expected at the July 13 council meeting.

“The port is a significant economic engine for our county,” said Dave Ryan, Executive Director of Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development. “It’s been a while since we’ve taken a good hard look at that river.”

About $200 million of corn, oil and building aggregate come in every year through the Salisbury port every year, but the barges leave empty. Part of the survey will take a look at whether there are opportunities for local goods to be exported, Ryan said.

Shipping by barge is less expensive and means few trucks on the road, he said. A barge can hold as much as 150 tractor-trailers.

The city will use a $37,500 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce — Economic Development Administration to pay for the survey and it must provide matching funds, for a total project budget of $75,000.

In addition to the $4,000 in donations, the city also will count $8,891 in staff salaries toward its $37,500 match. The city included $33,500 for the project in the fiscal 2021 budget which went into effect July 1.

“Every little bit helps,” City Council President Jack Heath said of the donations. “This is an important project so we need to make sure this goes forward.”

The survey will look at an area downriver from Downtown near Salisbury’s wastewater treatment plant, said Laura Soper, the city’s Business Development Director. Some nearby vacant land has been identified as suitable for port development, she said.

Under the terms of the grant agreement, the survey will include marine and vehicular traffic counts in the area and a river capacity analysis.

It also will develop short-, mid- and long-term recommendations of the area for proposed future use. Recommendations also will be made for surrounding sidewalks, signage and lighting.

The survey also is expected to look at the feasibility of constructing a multi-user port facility, provide input on how improvements may affect import tonnage, and include plans and renderings of the proposed improvements.

The city will seek competitive bids on the project. Once a contract is awarded, it is expected to be completed in nine months.

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