The idea of an inland port in Western North Carolina has recently navigated a few curves in the N.C. General Assembly. Moving on three tracks, the proposal is to locate such a port within the 23-county area of the N.C. Regional Economic Development Commission known as AdvantageWest. The port would serve as a hub for container-shipping distribution in the region, most likely incorporating rail as well as interstate access.
Under House Bill 2256, a report on the feasibility of the inland port would be completed by the Institute for the Economy and the Future of Western Carolina University by December. This bill has now passed second and third readings in the House and moved to the Senate. House Bill 2257 has been amended to allow the House Select Committee on a Comprehensive Rail Service Plan for North Carolina to take over the job of scrutinizing the feasibility of port, instead of creating a new joint committee for that purpose. And HB 2258, which would originally have established an Inland Port Interstate Compact between North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia to coordinate inland port efforts, has been replaced by a substitute that would create a new Inland Port Interstate Compact Study Committee of 16 legislators. All three bills were sponsored by Rep. Mitch Gillespie of McDowell County.
North Carolina has two existing inland ports, created in the 1980s in Charlotte and Greensboro in response to growth in container shipping. The state’s first deep-water ports in Wilmington and Morehead City were created as a result of legislative action in the 1940s, in order to promote the development of industry in the state. All four existing ports are overseen by the N.C. Ports Authority.
— Nelda Holder, associate editor