The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

March 20, 2013

Inland port project moving forward

Staff Writer

CONNEAUT — New developments regarding a proposed $50 million transportation/storage project that would include Conneaut’s port could come soon, Joe Raisian, Conneaut Port Authority chairman, told City Council’s economic development committee Monday night.

Raisian, on hand to give council an update on the authority’s activities, said his group has been sworn to secrecy on some aspects of the ambitious project, citing a “gag order.”

“Some of the things are getting very interesting,” he said. “Hopefully within 45 days we can tell you more.”

The inland project, led by the Erie County, Pa., Economic Development Corp., is geared around the warehousing and/or transit of goods, and would involve local railroads, ports in Conneaut and Erie, Pa., and large tracts of land in northwestern Pennsylvania, especially around the Albion area. Two companies could be a part of the project, including a iron-smelting plant and a wood pellet company, both eying land in the area.

Conneaut became a partner in the process a few years ago, when the city’s port authority began talks with Canadian National about the future of the Pittsburgh and Conneaut Dock Co.

Raisian is very optimistic the project, which will evolve over a period of years, will become a reality.

“It’s on the front burner,” he told council. “It’s smoking. And those railroad tracks (in Conneaut) are where we connect to the puzzle. The facets (of the project) are amazing.”

Raisian also told council the another Lake Erie marina could join the two already under port authority care. Some 60 boaters are on a waiting list for a berth at either facility, said Luke Gallagher, another port authority member who attended the meeting.

Over the past couple of boating seasons, the port authority has replaced old, wooden docks with floating versions that appeal to boaters, Raisian said. Another section of docks will get the upgrade in the next two years, he said.

Raisian emphasized the Port Authority is a valuable economic development tool for the city, not just the stewards of the city’s waterfront. The authority, for example, has played a big role in the East Conneaut Industrial Park. He welcomed the opportunity to work with city leaders on a variety of fronts.

“We trying to attract visitors to the lakefront and protect our core businesses down there,” Raisian said. “We all need to be out there swinging the bat for Conneaut,” he said.