Northwest Georgia inland port to open Aug. 1

CRANDALL, Ga. — The Appalachian Regional Port, designed as a freight pickup and drop-off gateway for trucks and trains, plans to open Aug. 1, officials said Tuesday.

Located 44 miles southeast of Chattanooga in Murray County, Ga., the new $24 million facility drew more than 100 people, including regional trucking company executives, to a briefing at the rural U.S. Highway 411 site.

Wesley Barrell, terminal manager for the Georgia Ports Authority, took note of the three massive electric cranes which soar over the inland port to load containers off and on the trucks and trains.

"It's state of the art," he said.

Freight will come and go by train between the Murray County facility and the Port of Savannah on the Atlantic coast, offering direct CSX service on a 388-mile route between the sites. Trucks can pick up or drop off freight at the inland port.

It's estimated that each container roundtrip moved via the 42-acre inland port will offset 710 truck miles on Georgia highways, according to the Ports Authority.

While only 11 people are expected to work at the inland port, officials are looking at the facility to spin off indirect jobs.

Illia Copeland, executive director of the Murray County Industrial Development Authority, said the opening of the inland port means the county becomes an attractive place for distribution centers and advanced manufacturing.

Copeland, who said he's the county's first full-time economic developer, noted that Murray has set aside nearly 400 acres in industrial park space. Some 1,200 acres of developable land has been identified by the county, he said.

"It's taking Murray County to the next level," Copeland said.

The inland port is seen as helping service not just Georgia but Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky.

Luke Connell, a terminal manager for trucking company TCW, said it has leased terminal space in nearby Dalton, Ga., to take advantage of the inland port.

"It will help us service existing customers," he said, and it will introduce it to new ones. The TCW terminal has about a half dozen people working there, Connell said.

Kevin Wright, a licensed agent for logistics provider Landstar, said he believes his company can benefit from the inland port.

"It's a good opportunity to use local resources," he said.

Connie Vaughan, chairman of the 16-county, tri-state visioning group Thrive Regional Partnership, said it's interesting to see how the inland port will impact the region.

"It will depend on how much traffic," she said. While Thrive is concerned about economic development, its mission also involves protecting the area's natural resources, Vaughan said.

According to the Ports Authority, the new facility has a capacity of 50,000 containers annually. A 10-year development plan could double that capacity.

Bridgett Massengill, Thrive's president and chief executive officer, said the group looks at the flow of freight through the region.

"We're focused on the economic winds that come out of this," she said about Thrive, which was a co-host of the Tuesday event.

By Mike Perry, Chattanooga Times Free Press