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DEARBORN COUNTY- The Ports of Indiana vice president says a potential fourth port would help Indiana with a commodity that continues to be at a premium: space. Jody Peacock says the three existing state ports in Jeffersonville, Mount Vernon and Portage are using up more than 80 percent of their original footprint, "so there is a need to grow." The state announced Thursday an $8 million purchase agreement for the former Tanners Creek coal power plant in Dearborn County, setting in motion a formal economic development and environmental impact exploration process that could lead to the first new state-supported port in 30 years.

"We have 2,800 acres of land on our Ohio River and Lake Michigan (port properties) right now and once that land is gone, then you certainly have to wonder how we’re going to keep attracting companies," Peacock said in an interview with Inside INdiana Business. "This project presents the opportunity for us to grow, attract some new businesses, expand the economic impact that our ports have had, and hopefully, we can provide additional contributions to Indiana’s economy."

The location, which straddles Lawrenceburg and Aurora, presents what Peacock says are "challenges like we haven’t seen in some of our other locations." Transitioning the old energy production property into a port operation would require space for cargo storage, cranes, a rail loop and additional infrastructure improvements. The payoff, Peacock says, would be big. "Developing a port anywhere is going to have a positive impact, because it attracts business, it creates jobs, creates synergies for businesses that are already in the area," he says, adding "it can reduce costs for businesses that are within 100 miles or more from the port, so it can be a supply chain savings opportunity for those businesses." He says port officials have considered the site for development as far back as the 1970s and is now the focus of search efforts

Peacock says, if the property is viable, officials would like to see a port in the Greater Cincinnati area that is close in scope to the Ports of Indiana – Jeffersonville, which was built in 1985, making it the most recently-constructed Indiana port. It is connected to some 16,000 jobs and generates an annual economic impact of $1.9 billion per year, according to Peacock. Greater Cincinnati, he adds, is the last large-scale metro area along a navigable waterway in Indiana without a port. In August, the Ports of Indiana reported year-to-date cargo totals of nearly 5.7 million tons at the three Ohio River and Lake Michigan operations.

"You put the pieces together for a port," Peacock commented, "you have to have river access, rail access and highway, and this port location that is being looked at in Lawrenceburg/Aurora has the trifecta."

Through a vetting process in the coming months, the state will decide if the property is viable and if it will close the deal with owner Tanners Creek Development LLC by the end of next year.

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Ports of Indiana Vice President Jody Peacock tells Inside INdiana Business the location, which straddles Lawrenceburg and Aurora, presents challenges and opportunities.