Onondaga County, N.Y., officials will consider seeking control of the long-awaited “inland port’’ at a DeWitt rail yard, under a proposal from Onondaga County Legislature Chairman Ryan McMahon.
McMahon, who appoints members of the Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency, has asked IDA to take “a lead role” in establishing the port now that New York state has provided funding.
What role IDA will play is undetermined, but it could include managing the port and hiring the private operator, he said. That would give local taxpayers representation at the port, where developers are likely to seek additional tax breaks or grants, McMahon said.
IDA Chairman Pat Hogan said the agency will schedule a special meeting to discuss the subject within a couple of weeks.
Rail yard owner CSX Corp., based in Jacksonville, Fla., this month won a $19 million state grant to install cargo-handling equipment and other facilities for a truck-and-train port capable of moving international shipping containers.
But there are many unanswered questions about the complex project, including who will operate the port facility. CSX, the railroad company, is not in the business of running ports and is expected to contract with a third-party operator.
One option IDA will consider is negotiating an agreement with CSX to oversee the inland port and hire an operator through a competitive process, McMahon said.
“These public-private partnerships usually involve a port authority,” McMahon said. ”It would make sense, this being in the county, that the authority would be the IDA.”
At least one private company, 3Gi Terminals, has been in talks with CSX in hopes of winning a contract to operate the port, according to company CEO Eckardt “Chris” Beck. McMahon said other logistics companies may be vying to run the port, too.
CSX will determine what happens next. If the railroad selects a port operator through private negotiations, then IDA will re-evaluate its role, McMahon said. If that doesn’t happen soon, McMahon wants IDA to get involved and inject some urgency to the project, which has been discussed for years without completion.
“There’s no quarterback to move this forward, so why wouldn’t the IDA take that role?” he said. “Until proven differently, I think the IDA needs to take the lead.”
McMahon said he and County Executive Joanie Mahoney met with CSX executives about two months ago. The CSX officials “did not say no” to the idea of negotiating an agreement for IDA to oversee the port facility, McMahon said.
Beck, of 3Gi Terminals, could not be reached for comment. CSX officials have not responded to requests for comment.
IDA may consider hiring a consultant to help evaluate options, McMahon said.
Typically, IDA’s role in development projects is limited to providing tax incentives. But the agency has shown a willingness to take a more active role on difficult projects. In 2015, IDA bought the former Roth Steel brownfield site on Onondaga Lake to control its cleanup and prevent the land from being reused as a scrapyard.
If IDA became a quasi-port authority with control over the inland port, it would select an operator through a competitive bidding process, McMahon said. The arrangement could provide a source of recurring revenue for the agency, to be used for economic development activities, he said.
But McMahon said his primary interest is to make sure the project does not languish longer. Involvement by IDA is likely to quicken the pace of development, he said.
“At some point, people need to step up … and start moving forward,’’ he said. “This process may pressure some people to do that.”