Wicomico County Considers County-Run Port

A May 26 DelmarvaNow article reported that Wicomico County is considering opening a county-run port due to the risk of losing federal funding to dredging the Wicomico River due to low freight haulage rates.  Loss of the federal assistance would likely mean that the closure of the Port of Salisbury – Maryland’s second largest port.

The stream of federal aid is at risk of running dry if the amount of freight hauled on the river drops below a five-year average of 1 million tons a year.

The future is now — the river’s users have failed to reach 1 million tons for three out of the past five years. Fearing the worst, several county leaders say something must be done to reverse the trend or Maryland’s second-largest port could be forced to close.

That something, they suggest, is a new county-run port.  …

The plan outlined by [County Administrator Wayne] Strausburg and Public Works Director Lee Beauchamp last week is little more than a sketch: The county would acquire land in the industrial area on the north end of the river and lease port space to businesses that otherwise couldn’t afford to build a port of their own.

Cost hasn’t been discussed, but it almost certainly require local officials to pony up millions of dollars even after accounting for state and federal grants.

The article noted that the County Council has set aside $26,500 to hire a consultant, with the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development matching that amount.  The plan has the support of local businesses and City of Salisbury.  The article also noted that a University of Salisbury report found that a county port would bring additional economic benefits:

A Salisbury University study found that a county port would expand the region’s economy 5-10 percent within the first five years of full-scale operations. In Wicomico alone, it would create 2,000 to 5,000 jobs that would pay at or above the area median income, economists said.