One of President Joe Biden's top cabinet officials came to Green Bay this week to tout how funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law are helping to boost Wisconsin’s economy.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg joined and U.S. Sen Tammy Baldwin, Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich, Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach and other local leaders in holding a press conference Wednesday.
At the center of the discussion was a $10.1 million grant awarded to the Port of Green Bay in October. The grant will help transform a decommissioned power plant at the mouth of the bay into a new state-of-the-art port facility. Its estimated total economic impact is more than $87 million in the first five years.
The project also includes cleaning up a brownfield site, building the new dock walls and bulkheads, constructing stormwater facilities, adding necessary roads and utilities as well as repairing and extending a rail spur.
Buttigieg said the Port of Green Bay development helps illustrate the motivation behind the infrastructure law, as the project’s roots came from local leaders.
"The ideas don't all have to come from Washington, but more of the funding should — and that is the idea of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that Senator Baldwin helped President Biden deliver," Buttigieg said.
He said federal dollars will help create the port’s first new terminal in nearly a century to serve the regional economy.
"This city and this region is so key to Midwest commerce, and so well positioned because of its infrastructure," Butigieg said. "A major highway just half a mile away, you got that rail line that connects right into the port (and) you’ve got links into the St. Lawrence Seaway, a shipping route that can get goods from the Midwest out all around the world."
While much of the discussion centered around the Port of Green Bay project, it wasn’t Buttigieg’s only focus during his stop in Wisconsin. He also met with local truck drivers about how to improve supply chains and toured the Green Bay airport.
During the press conference, Buttigieg responded to a question regarding a proposal to extend passenger rail from Milwaukee to Green Bay.
"The mayor raised this almost as soon as I greeted him," Buttigieg said. "I know there's a lot of excitement on the mayor's part (and) on the community's part in this region. And there's no question that this part of the Midwest has huge potential when it comes to expanded access to passenger rail."
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The transportation secretary said the Federal Railroad Administration is reviewing applications to the Corridor ID Program, which is helping to identify where passenger rail can be expanded.
"(There’s) no doubt in my mind that this region will be putting forward very, very competitive and compelling applications into that," he said. "I do believe there's the potential for that to lead to significant advancements and improvements in access to rail in this area."
Officials tout Port of Green Bay project as an 'economic engine'
Streckenbach said the Port of Green Bay redevelopment is a credit to partnerships at all levels of government, and said its economic benefits extend far beyond the county.
"A project of this size and magnitude is not just right here in Green Bay, Brown County, it actually reaches as far north as Upper Michigan (and) as far west over near Wausau," he said. "It is truly the economic engine for our overall community from an infrastructural standpoint."
Holly Bellmund, president of Green Bay-based GLC Minerals, said the port investment will benefit her company, which provides minerals to 1.3 million dairy cows in Wisconsin.
"With the expansion and investment in the port, GLC Minerals expects to add five full time jobs, which is an increase of 10 percent of our total staff," she said.
In addition to the port, Genrich said the project will help the city move coal piles off of a 35-acre spot downtown to the former power plant site. Coal has been downtown since coal yards began operating along the Fox River in the 1880s, and has been a major blight in the heart of the city.
"These coal piles have been a landmark in our downtown for far too long," he said. "Because of the stars aligning (with) these really critical partnerships that have been formed — from the federal government, to our state government, all the way down to the county and city — we're really on the precipice of doing some amazing things."