Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — MUSKEGON, Mich. (AP) — The West Michigan city of Muskegon is a prime location for a possible barge terminal that would connect the state's farm communities to Gulf Coast exporters through Chicago and the Mississippi River barge system, an agriculture association official said.
Michigan Agri-Business Association President Jim Byrum said some of his group's members have been exploring the possibility of a river barge terminal on the east end of Muskegon Lake. Existing interest in boosting the Port of Muskegon also is a factor, he said.
"Muskegon has railroad and highway connections that are key and so much is happening here," he said. "There is so much energy with the people and development."
Water-based transportation could be a "game-changing switch," he said. Much of Michigan's exported grain, for example, is sent via rail. The group also is looking at sites on the east side of Michigan at the Saginaw River and Port Huron, The Muskegon Chronicle reported (http://bit.ly/141T3Dz ).
"In the last 50 years, interest in moving agricultural products in our state by water has been missing," Byrum said.
Muskegon officials working on port development also are investigating the idea. The proposal could be more economical if outbound barges could return to Muskegon or other Michigan ports with farm products such as fertilizer, seed or equipment.
Such a barge terminal development would need the OK from the U.S. Coast Guard and others.
"If we can get past the federal issues, I think this is low-hanging fruit for us in developing the port," said Ed Garner, president of Muskegon Area First, an economic development agency.