Articles

    November meeting offers a primer on the state of the Illinois International Port District

    Clayton Harris III is an enthusiastic cheerleader for the Illinois International Port District (IIPD). As its executive director for the past three years he has made it a priority to make potential customers aware of what the District’s Iroquois Landing and Lake Calumet port facilities, both of which are on Chicago’s Southeast Side and near the Indiana border, have to offer. There are 19 public port districts in the state. Harris was Chicago Farmers’ November 18, 2019, meeting guest speaker.

    “We are the greatest multi-modal facility in North America,” said Harris. “These ports are the logistics hearts and brains of transportation.”

    Harris related that the Iroquois Landing Facility has 190 acres and approximately1,600 acres comprise the Lake Calumet facility. In addition to these sites, the District also includes the Harborside International Golf Center, which was constructed over the old city of Chicago’s dump and filled with refuse.

    “We have connections to road, rail, and water,” said Harris as he displayed a picture of the ports with nearby interstates and rail yards crisscrossing the properties. “The Chicago facilities are within 10 miles of five United States highways, have access to six of the seven North American Class I railroads, and the sites are the only Great Lakes and inland rivers port. We rank number two behind the Duluth/Superior port. The port processes an average of 17.5 million tons of cargo annually.”

    The state’s port system includes 350 private terminals along the Illinois, Kaskaskia, Calumet, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers, as well as Lake Michigan. Three Illinois ports are among the leading ports in the country.

    Harris noted that international ships come through the Chicago sites via the St. Lawrence Seaway; barge traffic comes via the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.

    While the Chicago sites see $37 million in agricultural products at their docks, Harris would like to increase that figure for the facilities and be an economic stimulus for the Chicago area. In 2017, the facilities had total revenue of $1,186,968 and his goal is to increase that by six percent while reducing debt, which he has done during his three years of stewardship.

    Harris said that making the facilities more attractive is a key factor in drawing more traffic. He said the state’s capital budget allocated $150 million for the state’s 19 ports and the Illinois International Port District hopes to receive $50 million from that.

    The Calumet site has the largest grain elevators east of the Mississippi River, but none of them store any grain. “A decision has to be made to either raze the structures at a cost of $14 million or revamp them for $25 million, although we do have two grain bins to store soy,” said Harris. Additionally, a “ghost ship” that has been moored alongside the grain elevators for 20 years will soon be moved showing ongoing progress and change.

    Harris said the IIPD is now involved in a $1 million master planning process that will give it action plans to make the sites more attractive and more cost effective. He added that the District just received $17.5 million that will fund its first capital improvement project since 1981 and include the repaving of Butler Drive, the main roadway through the port district at Lake Calumet, and the raising of rail lines.

    “Our master plan will outline what we should, could, and will be doing,” said Harris. “For example, we plan to add a refrigerated shed to the Lake Calumet site so that we can store fresh food products. I want to engage people in agriculture and learn what we can do for you. I want you to incorporate the state’s 19 ports in your thought process.”