Port marks milestone with $50 million pier restoration

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The state port at Gulfport has reached a milestone in its ongoing post-Katrina recovery. After four years of rebuilding, a prominent port customer has returned to its original docking space.

Longtime customer, Chiquita, is back in its preferred location at the west pier.  Four years ago, the hurricane destroyed much of the west pier berthing space. After considerable rebuilding, a new and improved docking space now accommodates port customers.

The west pier's berth one is a busy place on unloading day. Chiquita brings in some 300 containers a week.

"For the past four years, we've been relocated to other berths and had to be concerned about other vessel traffic in the port. And now we have our... back in our preferred berth and our operations will be more efficient," said Tony Caranna, the gulf operations manager for Chiquita.

Rebuilding and restoration of berths one and two is finished, while work continues on berth three.

Four years ago, the west pier sustained a tremendous blow.

"Following the events of Katrina in 2005, the entire west pier was basically rendered useless because of the level of destruction," said port executive director, Don Allee.

Some $50 million later, the west pier berths are new and improved.

The previous berths, built in the '50s, could handle weights of just 400 to 500 pounds a square foot. The replacement docks can handle a thousand pounds per square foot.

"We've made a commitment to containerized growth, the growth in intermodal traffic. You've got to have the facilities to serve vessels. And that's what this facility does," said Allee.

Chiquita appreciates the upgraded facilities and ambitious plans for port expansion.  The fruit importer is here for the long haul.

"We have made a commitment to the port of Gulfport and we're excited about the new plans," says Caranna.

"The key to our success is always having the capacity to serve the amount of business that we're looking for. And that's why the west pier growth is so important to our future," said Allee.

Keep in mind that rebuilding the berths on the west pier is Katrina recovery work. The state port at Gulfport is also moving ahead on its ambitious, $1.5 billion expansion that will double the size of the port facilities.

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