China cargo hub backers enter deal to revive project at St Louis airport

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SUPPORTERS of the stalled China cargo hub at St Louis, Missouri, are sidestepping sceptical state legislators to revive the project, reports the St Louis Post-Dispatch.

St Louis County plans to create a US$3 million fund designed to induce freight flights to Lambert-St Louis International Airport after financial deal in which the county will pay for the freight incentives by diverting casino tax revenue from local flood-ravished street repairs for which it was earmarked, leaving the state to pay for that with federal flood relief funds.

This is part of an effort to revive four-year-old aspirations to create the cargo hub, an effort that fizzled after the first and last China Cargo flights arrived from Shanghai only to withdraw when the prospects of an agreed tax holiday disappeared.

The new fund is a scaled back version of the old Aerotropolis tax credit plan, which would have set aside $60 million over eight years to reduce the cost of flying goods overseas. The credit was designed to make shipping from Lambert cheaper than from Chicago O'Hare, where most Midwestern air freight takes off.

The bill died in last fall's failed special legislative session, and shortly after Air China Cargo began cancelling its flights.

Casino tax revenues "don't have the same regulatory issues associated with them" as flood-relief grants, said Denny Coleman, president of the St Louis County Economic Council.

The one-time cash will pay for a pilot project that supporters estimate would support three flights a week for a year. They hope to build a case for St Louis freight routes - to the cargo industry and to state lawmakers.

"A lot of us believe it'll work," said New York-listed Emerson Electric president Ed Monser, who is working on the project. Emerson Electric designs and supplies technology and engineering in industrial, commercial and consumer markets.

But Democrat County Councillor Steve Stenger was doubtful. "I'm 100 per cent in favour of developing a hub for international cargo, but this plan has boondoggle written all over it. The hub is dead one minute, and then the next we see these back-channel manoeuvres involving streetscaping money to fund these unsustainable flights?"

Republican County Councillor Greg Quinn also had doubts. "It doesn't make a lot of sense to me to use $3 million to pay freight forwarders when you don't have a plan in place to back it up."

Staff from Lambert and the Regional Chamber and Growth Association say they will drum up interest in St Louis among exporters and the cargo industry.

"We'll still go after China, but we export all over the world," said Lambert director Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge. "This has to include the UK, South America and India. It's a broad look at trying to bring cargo activity here."

Republican state Senator Jason Crowell, who has opposed the scheme from the start, said: "I wouldn't do it, but I'm not on the council there. It's a local decision."

Source Shipping Gazette - Daily Shipping News
 

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