Gulfport port is building "bigger, stronger, better" - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Gulfport port is building "bigger, stronger, better"

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) -

By Steve Phillips – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - State lawmakers  heard a progress report Tuesday on expansion plans at the state port at Gulfport.

Port Director Don Allee and the Mississippi Development Authority hosted a luncheon to update legislators on port improvements. From their vantage point in the Great Southern Club, 15 stories high in the Hancock Bank building, lawmakers could simply look out the window and see the port property and planned improvement area.

"We feel very fortunate in a post-Katrina environment that we have the resources to not only restore what we lost, but to make what we restore bigger, better, stronger. So, that's what we're doing," Allee explained.

State legislators had a bird's eye view of the port facility that will nearly double in size if the almost one billion dollar expansion-improvement project becomes reality.

The first phase includes elevating the entire operation.

"When we raise the port to 25 feet above sea level, it will be much safer than it has in the past. Safer for the tenants and for the city of Gulfport around it. And the other major objective is to create more jobs," said Joe Conn, the port's director of disaster recovery.

New jobs and economic impact will be realized when the port deepens the channel and expands its cargo handling capacity.

That will better accommodate the expected increase in ship traffic when the Panama Canal is deepened and widened in 2014.

"I just mention the Panama Canal as a driving force. Because if we don't have the facilities ready ahead of the opening of that canal, then you're already behind in the game," said Allee.

One state legislator wanted to know why more wasn't done to save the poultry business the port once enjoyed.

"I don't think it's a stretch to invest in the poultry industry at the Port of Gulfport. It's all equated to jobs," said Rep. Diane Peranich of Pass Christian.

The port director said he couldn't convince any poultry companies to commit to Gulfport, even if the port installed a new freezer.  Another issue is union related.

"Yes, the poultry is moving in large volume. But it primarily finds its way to a non-union terminal. I don't want to do anything to hurt our union. The reason we're a success story is because the union got us there," Director Allee told the group.

One lawmaker said a good plan should take the port to the next level.

Rep. Billy Broomfield chairs the Ports & Harbor Committee in the state house.

"I would much rather see the contingency plan that I've seen today, then for them to realize at the last moment that they're trying to catch up because they didn't know what the customer wanted or needed," said Broomfield.

Port Director Allee said cargo at the Gulfport facility is down about five to 10 percent because of the recession. But he told lawmakers it could be worse: Other ports have seen their cargo numbers decline 15 to 20 percent.

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