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Expansion Plans for Mississippi State Port Scrutinized

By Rhonda Miller | Published 07 Aug 2012 08:42pm | comments

The state port in Gulfport faces numerous challenges as it uses $570 million in federal money to rebuild from Hurricane Katrina. MPB’s Rhonda Miller reports despite challenges, port leaders say the project is moving forward.

Executive Director of the Mississippi State Port Don Allee says the goals of the port expansion have always been clear - now they’re being pursued aggressively.

"The corrective action plan and the discussions we had with the governor centered on five very important elements. One of them is job creation. We have an obligation to produce or create about another 1200 jobs by the time our project has been completed."

Allee said the goals include keeping the port’s current tenants, increasing containers from 200,000 to one million per year; and developing 50 acres called the North Harbor.

"Another element is to deepen and widen our channel. That’s vital to being able to bring in not only  more cargo, but to bring in larger ships, in order to reach the cargo levels we’re trying to reach."

The port has a 36-foot channel and port leaders say the goal is to deepen it to 45 feet, which has to be done by the Army Corps of Engineers.

"What’s the status as far as if there is any planning or request for deepening of the channel, 'cause at present it’s 36 feet?”  “Right now the Corps has not yet received any official request from the state, nor the port authority, for the deepening of the channel.”

That’s Lisa Parker, spokeswoman for the Corps of Engineers in Mobile.

Executive Director Don Allee says the port is currently working with the Corps of Engineers in an earlier stage called reconnaissance to determine  the cost, benefits and environmental impact of deepening the channel.

Billy Birdwell is a spokesman for the Corps of Engineers in Savannah, Georgia, where the channel is being deepened from 42 to 47 feet.

"We received authorization to begin the study for the deepening of the harbor with legislation that was passed in 1999. So we have been working on this, basically, for 13 years."

Birdwell says the project still needs final approval, then the actual deepening will take four more years.

On the Mississippi port expansion, the Corps of Engineers is presenting an environmental impact statement at a public workshop in Gulfport tomorrow evening.






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