State Sen. Arthur Orr: River port proposal to help with ‘wear and tear’ of roads, Would not provide yacht access for Decatur
Earlier during this year’s legislative session, State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) put forth a proposal that would offer public financing for inland ports, which at the time would have come from revenue generated by an increase in the gas tax that is part of the newly passed Rebuild Alabama Act. Since doing so, the source of funding for his proposal has shifted from new gas tax revenue to money now freed up that was initially used to fund the courts.
However, some critics of Orr’s proposal have alleged the Republican senator was motivated by an allegiance to his employer Cook’s Pest Control, which sought the inland port funding to make Decatur accessible for yachts owned by the company.
During an appearance on “The Dale Jackson Show” on Huntsville radio’s WVNN, Orr clarified his proposal by explaining he sought to improve the inland river ports of Alabama, which includes Decatur as well as others, as an additional way to get goods to and from market.
“When the bill, the gas tax bill, was coming through, I had an amendment I wanted to offer,” he said. “I think we may have even talked about it on this show. The amendment said this: If we’re going to invest in the Port of Mobile, that’s fine. And dredging that harbor to get in larger ships – a good thing, a good investment for the state. Obviously not roads and bridges, but a good thing overall. When the goods come into the state, a lot of them will be transported on inland waterways. And there are inland ports all throughout the state. They are publicly owned by a local port authority, etc. all through the waterways. And so the premise of the bill was to enhance the tonnage going through Mobile, to and from. And also you could have a plant up here like Mazda-Toyota and shipping cars from up here down to the Port of Mobile. But you’ve got to have the ports to do it.”
Orr told Jackson such an offering could take wear and tear off the state’s roads given waterways would be used instead of roads and bridges to move goods.
“The premise is let’s have a pot of money to enhance the ports, which helps Mobile with its tonnage, and that all gets trucks off the highways and wear and tear off the highways because now they’re going to be on rivers,” Orr added. “If we take trucks’ wear and tear off the roads, then that’s kind of less money we have to spend on the roads. Kind of a wash, if you will, Dale.”
His proposal also included enhancements for intermodal freight transport to and from the Port of Mobile, which is being expanded as a result of the Rebuild Alabama Act.
“And another thing with the bill was to have an intermodal or two,” he continued. “If you look at Savannah, if you look at Norfolk, Hampton Roads, Charleston – if you look at 200 or 300 miles inland from each of those ports, they have a large inland port. If you take the stuff off, they rail it inland 200 or 300 miles, they take it to the intermodal, they offload, it the put it on trucks, and they disperse it. And again, the converse – truck it to the intermodal, rail it to the port and ship it out via the port in Mobile – all to enhance the tonnage coming and going from Mobile. So that’s what the bill did in two things.”
He went on to add that dredging marinas would not be allowed, just the publicly owned ports.
“There’s no dredging allowed, except in the port area,” he continued. “And somebody brought that up in committee, and we actually amended the bill to say no dredging of rivers. It just gets too expensive. You have to have a viable port.”
The Morgan County Republican also said it could not solely be for his home city of Decatur because it was done through a competitive grant program open to the 20-25 publicly owned ports throughout the state.
Orr denied the accusations that he was motivated by offering yacht access for his employer Cook’s Pest Control, and said they did not own a yacht.
“The family that I work for, the company I work for, the owners – they don’t have a yacht. They don’t even have a fishing boat.”