Capitol - Your Illinois News Radar » Pritzker’s office, IDOT say consulting bills, lack of new paperwork holding up funding for Cairo Port project
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Pritzker’s office, IDOT say consulting bills, lack of new paperwork holding up funding for Cairo Port project

Friday, Feb 3, 2023 - Posted by Rich Miller

* From last October 17

Governor JB Pritzker announced $3.4 million will go to a new inland port under development in Cairo.

The money is through the Rebuild Illinois capital program.

According to a release from the governor’s office, the funding, part of a more than $40 million commitment to the Alexander Cairo Port District, will help to complete federal environmental requirements and studies for the project.

“The Cairo port is one of the core pieces of Rebuild Illinois and critical to maintaining our state’s status as the transportation hub of North America,” said Illinois Transportation Secretary Omer Osman. “The project will put people to work and strengthen the local economy while giving the region the opportunity to compete in the global marketplace.”

* But according to Waterways Journal, that money has never arrived and all work has been stopped for months

A public port project in Cairo, Ill., is facing delays and an uncertain future after contracts have expired, and no funding for it has been received in more than seven months.

Minutes from the Alexander-Cairo Port District’s monthly meetings, received as part of an Illinois Freedom of Information Act request by The Waterways Journal, show that contracts with consultant Todd Ely of Ely Consulting Group in Springfield, Ill., with HDR, an engineering consultant with an office in nearby Paducah, Ky., and with all other contractors expired June 30. Additionally, they showed the district had not received any additional money for the port project since that time, and no additional actions were taken toward beginning construction.

Construction was supposed to start last year. Nope.

* I reached out to the governor’s office…

The Cairo Port project remains a priority for the Governor. The Board membership has changed from its composition in the initial years of this project and the administration has had productive conversations with the new board. In the course of our administration’s due diligence on this project, we found that there were a number of proposed expenditures by the port that were not eligible for reimbursement from the bond funded appropriation. Administration officials met with port officials in August to discuss the matter, and IDOT Secretary Osman sent the attached letter and spreadsheet informing the port of the spending that would not be eligible for reimbursement, including several consulting fees.

When funding is released it means that state has the authority to spend the money for a project. It does not mean payments have been made or invoiced. Generally, IDOT grant agreements are set up with grantees invoicing the department for reimbursable expenses. No invoices have been submitted against the $3.4 million release that was announced in the fall.

Governor Pritzker remains committed Cairo’s revival, along with countless communities throughout southern and downstate Illinois. The Governor has put tremendous focus on downstate Illinois throughout his administration and looks forward to the next steps on this project.

It is our understanding the Cairo Port Board terminated their working relationship with Mr. Ely.

Our administration has made it clear to the board the importance of this project and our expectations for urgency.

* Excerpt of a letter from Transportation Secretary Omer Osman that was sent Oct. 17 to the port district chair

The State continues to support this objective; however, it has become deeply concerning to our administration that the management of this project is over reliant on consultant support, having spent approximately $2.8 million on consulting, project and grant management, and development expertise services. This is more than half of the state funds released to date. In the future, state funds should be used for the engineering, site readiness, and environmental work necessary to complete the development of the port terminal. Minimal funds may be used for consultation services.

With respect to your request to release $7,453,000, IDOT agrees to proceed with releasing $3,378,000 of the requested funding to conduct environmental work (including permitting studies, NEPA requirements, and biological assessments), site energy modeling, utility rate negotiation and green energy procurement.

At this time, IDOT cannot approve the remaining $4,075,000 because the costs you have identified are not eligible or because you haven’t provided sufficient information to process the request. Attached is a detailed workbook that identifies the specific costs that were deemed ineligible and those that require additional information.

Based on our initial review, $2,145,000 of the submitted expenditures require more information to determine eligibility. Please submit the requested information by Monday, October 31, 2022 to ensure timely processing.

Our continued partnership and collaboration are essential for the development and implementation of this transformative investment in Southern Illinois. As such, IDOT and representatives of the Governor’s Office would like to meet to discuss the Board’s progress in securing private investment for the Port as well as expenses you have identified that require a new appropriation by the General Assembly as noted above. In the interim, my office will work to advance the next tranche of funding (totaling $3,378,000) to the Port as soon as possible.

And, according to the governor’s office, that $3.4 million will be released as soon as the state receives a submission which assures that they’re only spending the money on allowable items using bond proceeds. Click here for the above-mentioned workbook which includes an analysis of what the state says can and cannot be billed for bond projects and how much the port district was trying to bill for various things.

Ely Consulting Group, for exampled, was billing the state’s bond proceeds for $350,000 for things like “Marketing and public relations,” “Public-private partnership” coordination, etc.

Then again, I’m told the port never received a grant agreement.

…Adding… A new grant agreement was sent to the port district a couple weeks ago, I’m now told. The governor’s office believes it’ll be wrapped up soon, sans the consulting money.


  1. - Amalia - Friday, Feb 3, 23 @ 12:53 pm:

    I have no knowledge of that particular project. but I have looked at some required documentation through the program and it’s not easy, and often unclear. you feel like you need to hire someone just to get through the paperwork to get in the door when you’ve been given permission. not easy.

  2. - interestinggggg - Friday, Feb 3, 23 @ 12:55 pm:

    The consultant bills on that are hilarious along with their deliverables. I might need to rethink the field I’m in if I can get away with that kind of highway robbery.

  3. - Regular democrat - Friday, Feb 3, 23 @ 1:03 pm:

    Traditional beak wetting taken to the extreme. I thought cook county had a lock on that. Sounds like a valuable project might be in peril. Hope it works out.

  4. - James - Friday, Feb 3, 23 @ 1:15 pm:

    The Ely Consulting Group should never get another contract in Illinois again. Larry Klein needs to be shown the door as well. Cairo has great potential, but those who wish to only serve themselves at the expense of Illinois taxpayers, and at the expense of one of the most down trodden black communities in America are despicable.

  5. - Blue Dog - Friday, Feb 3, 23 @ 1:39 pm:

    with all due respect. the port district at Cairo is much needed. just like any business, it’s location,location,location. buts let’s be honest. it’s not going to resurrect the town. it looks like a war zone. they’ll be lucky to keep it’s Dollar General. quite honestly I don’t know what’s the solution.

  6. - Back to the Future - Friday, Feb 3, 23 @ 1:43 pm:

    This is really incredible.
    Not that I am an expect on spending public funds, but between Team Pritzker and this local group I think just giving up on this project is probably the best way to end this misadventure.

  7. - Rich Miller - Friday, Feb 3, 23 @ 1:45 pm:

    ===The Ely Consulting Group should===

    In his defense, he’s been working on this project for something like 15 years (without pay) and was about to launch it last year when the money dried up. So, yeah, I get it, but they need to find a way to get it done.

  8. - The Ford Lawyer - Friday, Feb 3, 23 @ 1:48 pm:

    James and Blue Dog, you’re both right! The port of Cairo is a vital strategic location, the Town of Cairo will never be what it was, and Ely Consulting ought to never work on a state project again. Fleecing the downtrodden is an age old tradition and as long as there is a big pile of money somewhere, the grifters are gonna grift.

  9. - Give us Barabbas - Friday, Feb 3, 23 @ 2:20 pm:

    The port needs to move ahead, it’s absolutely vital to the state and the region. To me it sounds like the Board is the problem. Often times boards of this nature are full of people who were needed politically to get the funding but who are less than useless operationally, and then the graft and waste starts happening. If JB wants to be taken seriously in Southern Illinois, this project has to get finished and done right. People down there are literally staking their livelihoods on it. And Lord knows, those folks are due for something good to happen for them. You need a deputy governor making weekly inspections and reports back to JB on this stuff, finding the roadblocks and tackling them head-on.

  10. - Predecessor - Friday, Feb 3, 23 @ 2:27 pm:

    How much Todd Ely make off of the Tenasca project in Christian County? Remember that one? You know, the once in a generation economic development project that he swore would create 3,000 jobs? Oh wait, that one didn’t happen either. He was the main consultant on that one too. Agree he should be banned from being paid using state funds.

  11. - On the other hand... - Friday, Feb 3, 23 @ 2:36 pm:

    “Ely Consulting Group, for exampled, was billing the state’s bond proceeds for $350,000 for things like “Marketing and public relations,” “Public-private partnership” coordination, etc.”

    I read this and don’t think that’s right. Isn’t this the proposal for Phase 2 and not what was spent in phase 1? The only thing the story says about phase I spending is this: “The scope of work and all deliverables were completed before the June 30 contract expiration deadline and under budget, with $1.1 million returned to the state, Ely said and Klein confirmed.” Sounds like waste to me.

  12. - Hmmm.... - Friday, Feb 3, 23 @ 2:40 pm:

    “How much Todd Ely make off of the Tenasca project in Christian County? Remember that one?

    Well that’s kind of ridiculous to blame him for that one not happening. The project was killed with tens of millions of dollars of ComEd money and pretty much the whole business community.

  13. - Opening Date - Friday, Feb 3, 23 @ 3:01 pm:

    I lived in Taylorville during the Tenascka saga. Mr. Ely was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by state agencies and local governments and labor unions. He didn’t produce one job. And here he is again making tons of dough capitalizing on a part of the state that is desperate for jobs. He’s blaming everyone here but himself. He’s the paid consultant. If this thing fails, its on him. He’s paid to make it succeed.

  14. - btowntruth from forgottonia - Friday, Feb 3, 23 @ 3:02 pm:

    “Traditional beak wetting taken to the extreme. I thought cook county had a lock on that. Sounds like a valuable project might be in peril. Hope it works out.”

    Oh no.
    Noooooooooo no no no no no.

    Come on down to my parts of Forgottonia or down to far Southern Illinois sometime.

  15. - Annonin' - Friday, Feb 3, 23 @ 3:02 pm:

    We know several PR professionals who can promote/inform/communicate on this project for modest fees

  16. - btowntruth from forgottonia - Friday, Feb 3, 23 @ 3:03 pm:

    “If JB wants to be taken seriously in Southern Illinois, this project has to get finished and done right.”

    Won’t matter down there.
    He doesn’t have the (R) next to his name.

  17. - New Day - Friday, Feb 3, 23 @ 3:58 pm:

    “I lived in Taylorville during the Tenascka saga. Mr. Ely was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by state agencies and local governments and labor unions.”

    I don’t know where you get that from. He was paid by Tenaska, not labor unions and governments.

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